Rayhan John Thomas of India. Pic: Moon Liu/AAC
Sept 6: Rayhan Thomas, who came within a whisker of making history at the prestigious Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship (AAC) in 2018 will once again have a shot at one of the most sought-after events for amateurs in the region.
Indian national Rayhan Thomas, who was based in Dubai, before moving to the Oklahoma State University, where he plays in the highly competitive college will lead a strong seven-man squad in the 13th edition of the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship (AAC) to be played at Amata Spring Country Club in Chonburi, Thailand from October 27-30.
The winner of the event gets to play the Masters Tournament and The Open and the runner-up gets a place in The Open Qualifying Series for The Open.
Thomas, who has played in the AAC four years in a row from 2016 to 2019, will be playing in the event for the fifth time. He finished two shots behind the winner, Takumi Kanaya, at the 2018 edition at the Sentosa Golf Club in Singapore. Kanaya has since turned professional. Thomas has often said that if there is one tournament he desperately wants to win, it is the Asia-Pacific Amateurs, because it is so strong and opens many doors.
The Indian team includes Shat Mishra, who has been very consistent on the domestic circuit, Milind Soni, a member of the Indian team at the 2021 AAC, where he finished 41st and Aryan Roopa Anand, who is a two-time winner of All India Amateur Championships, an event that is more than a 100 years old.
The others are Krishnav Nikhil Chopra, who will soon be going to US for college golf and is the son of former India cricketer, Nikhil Chopra.
Dubai-based Arjun Gupta, winner of the 2000 Abu Dhabi amateurs and 5th at Kenya Amateurs and Shaurya Bhattacharya, sixth-place finisher at Dutch Amateurs are the others.
The AAC was created in 2009 as a joint initiative to develop the game by the Asia-Pacific Golf Confederation, the Masters Tournament and The R&A.
Over the years, the AAC has served as a platform for some of the world’s top players today. The AAC alumni have gone on to win 23 PGA Tour tournaments, highlighted by Hideki Matsuyama at the 2021 Masters and Cameron Smith at The Open in 2022. In 2021, Japan’s Keita Nakajima captured the AAC title in Dubai.
This year all eyes will be on the local hero Ratchanon “TK” Chantananuwat. He is No. 12 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking and will be the highest-ranked player in the field. If he wins, he will become the first player from Thailand to win the AAC. The previous top finish by a Thai player was tied third which was accomplished by Tanapat Pichaikool in Shanghai in 2019.
In April this year, the 15-year-old Chantananuwat, became the youngest male player to win on one of the game’s major tours with his triumph at the Asian Tour’s Trust Golf Asian Mixed Cup. He was also runner-up in the R&A Junior Open.
Another player eager for the return of AAC action is Hong Kong’s Taichi Kho, who lost in a playoff to Nakajima last year after posting weekend rounds of 64-65.
Japanese players will be looking to win a third title since 2018 (Takumi Kanaya won in 2018 and Nakajima in 2021. This time they will be led by No. 101 Masato Sumiuchi, who will seek to follow in the footsteps of Kanaya, Nakajima and before them Hideki Matsuyama, who won back-to-back AACs in 2010 and 2011. He went on to become the first Asian-born player to win the Masters Tournament in 2021.
The venue, Amata Spring Country Club, was designed by Lee Schmidt and established in 2005. The venue previously hosted the AAC in 2012 and has provided the backdrop for the LPGA Thailand, the Thailand Golf Championship and the Royal Trophy team event.