Natthakritta Vongtaveelap opened a two-shot lead after the first round of the Women’s Amateur Asia-Pacific championship (WAAP), following a brilliant six-under-par 66 that featured seven birdies.
At Abu Dhabi Golf Club’s National course, Vongtaveelap made a nervous start that saw her make an early bogey on the par-5 second hole. She was rarely in trouble on the golf course after that and used her length off the tee to make rapid progress up the leaderboard.
A group of three players from three different countries – Chun-Wei Wu of Chinese Taipei, Mizuki Hashimoto of Japan and Viera Permata Rosada of Indonesia – were tied in second place at four-under-par 68.
Eight players were tied for fifth at three-under-par, including Korea’s Youmin Hwang, the highest-ranked player in the field at number four in the World Amateur Golf Ranking® (WAGR®), India’s Anika Varma, Australia’s Kelsey Bennett and the Malaysian trio of Ashley Lau, Audrey Tan and Natasha Andrea Oon.
The third edition of the championship, organised by The R&A and the Asia-Pacific Golf Confederation (APGC), is being held in Abu Dhabi. The final round for the four-day competition takes place on Saturday, 13 November.
Nervous Start, Strong Finish
“I was very nervous at the beginning. My heart felt like it would jump out of my body. But I somehow managed to calm myself down by thinking that I can do it,” said Vongtaveelap, who is called ‘Sim’ by her friends.
Her birdies came on the seventh and eighth holes on the front nine and she later added five on the back nine including one on the famous 515-yard, par-5 18th hole of Abu Dhabi Golf Club.
“I loved my birdie on the 18th hole. I think I hit all perfect shots there. A driver that went absolutely straight into the headwind, followed by a very nice second shot with a hybrid that reached the green and left me with a 15-feet eagle putt. I missed that even though I hit a good putt but that birdie was sweet.”
After starting from the first, Hashimoto was four-under-par at the turn with three straight birdies from the seventh hole onwards. But she made two bogeys on the back nine, bouncing back both times with birdies.
“I thought I played well today,” said the 19-year-old WAGR® number 114 from Hyogo. “I made four birdies on the front nine but after I saw the leaderboard I got a bit nervous and couldn't hit that many greens on the back nine. I will try to do my best tomorrow.”
The surprise package on the leaderboard was Indonesia’s Rosada. Struggling with her game in the last few weeks in the US, the Sam Houston sophomore came to the championship ranked WAGR® Number 1715. But she got off the blocks in blistering fashion with three birdies in the first three holes and added two more on the 13th and 14th holes. A bogey on the 15th denied her sole second place.
“It’s actually the best round of my life because my previous one was a 69. So, I’m really happy with it,” said Rosada who holed her third shot from the bunker on the first hole for a birdie.
“It is a big thing for me. On the last hole, I was taking a lot of deep breaths. I was thinking just play your game, just hit the fairway, hit the green. I wanted to make sure I got my best round.”
Hamda Al Suwaidi, from the host nation of the United Arab Emirates, had the honour of hitting the first tee shot of the championship.
While Al Suwaidi did not have the best day on the course, she is a proud Emirati. “It was a lot of pressure and I was nervous but I was also honoured to represent the UAE. I hit the first shot and it went well.
“It's a big opportunity for us to play against the best amateurs in the Asia-Pacific region. I learned a lot from this round and the practice sessions. It was such a good experience for me and of course for the rest of the UAE team.”
The championship was won in its inaugural year by Thailand’s Atthaya Thitikul, who has graduated to become the number one player on the Ladies European Tour (LET) this season, and by Japan’s Yuka Yasuda in 2019. A total of 78 players from 16 nations are taking part this week.
WAAP is one of the most important events on the calendar for players from the Asia-Pacific region, with the champion golfer earning a place in two major championship fields - the AIG Women’s Open and the Amundi Evian Championship, as well as the Hana Financial Group Championship and an invitation to play in the Augusta National Women’s Amateur.
The four days of the championship are being broadcast live for four hours from 6am-10am GMT (10am-2pm UAE time) on TV across the region, as well as live streamed through The R&A’s YouTube and Facebook channels and on RandA.org. This continues The R&A’s summer of live golf coverage after the finals of The 118th Women’s Amateur Championship and The 126th Amateur Championship as well as the 41st Curtis Cup were also digitally broadcast on all these channels.