Keita Nakajima – photo courtesy of AAC
Japan’s Keita Nakajima has claimed a fourth Asia Pacific Amateur Championship for his country and became the third player from Japan to win the coveted title with a playoff victory over Hong Kong’s Taichi Kho in Dubai.
Both players had completed the 72 holes at Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club at 14 under par but Nakajima, the No 1 ranked male amateur in the world, secured the title when he holed a 25 foot birdie at the second extra hole after Kho had found the water from a fairway bunker.
21 year old, Nakajima, joins Hideki Matsuyama (twice) and Takumi Kanaya on the honours list for Japan, taking that country ahead of China (3) as the nation with the most success in the 12 occasions the event has been played.
Amongst the many titles Nakajima has to his name in amateur golf is the 2018 Australian Amateur Championship which he won at Lake Karrinyup in Perth but he also won an event on the Japan Golf Tour this year when successful at the Panasonic Open two months ago.
“I am very proud of what I have achieved,” said the winner. “To follow in the footsteps of Hideki-san and Takumi feels great.”
“I am so excited that I will be playing three majors in 2022 (he is also exempt for the U.S. Open as part of winning the Mark H. McCormack Medal as the men’s World No. 1 in 2021 WAGR ®). I am very thankful to the tournament for giving us such great opportunities,” added Nakajima, who finished joint runner-up behind Kanaya in the 2018 edition in Singapore.
Nakajima threatened to run away with the title when he established an early three shot lead on day four but a bogey at the 6th was followed soon after by a double at the 9th and with Kho putting together a stunning round of 65 to follow his 64 on Friday the Hong Kong golfer, who studies at Notre dame University in the US, took the lead when he birdied the 11th to move ahead.
Kho was unable to secure the one extra birdie he needed to take the title however and when Nakajima recovered to birdie the 11th, 13th and 14th the pair headed for extra holes. Both parred the par 4 18th at the first playoff hole but when Kho, was awkwardly placed in the fairway bunker, found the water guarding the front of the green at the second and could mange no better than double bogey, it was all over.
The victory is further success for Japanese amateur golf and there is a strong Australian connection in that success as Adelaide’s Gareth Jones is the National Coach for Japan. Jones also guided one of the two Australians to win the event, Anthony Murdaca, when he won at Royal Melbourne in 2014.
Kho who attends Notre Dame University in the US was clearly disappointed not to claim to spoils of victory but was proud of what he had achieved, his performance the best by a Hong Kong player in the 12-year history of the event.
“I was three back and I knew the guys in the last group had the potential for going deep. I just knew if I focus on my own game, I could post a low one out there and I did exactly that. I just made a string of birdies and by the time I knew it I was in the lead with three to go. That was nerve-racking but at the same time I feel like I’ve prepared for that pretty well,” said Kho, ranked No. 220 in the WAGR®.
“I felt more comfortable this time. To be able to play well down the stretch gives me a lot of confidence going forward. I hit the shots I needed to hit. If I had the same shot again, I would choose the same club and thought process. I just didn’t execute this time. Keita won with a birdie so I have no regrets with that decision.”
Victorian Andre Lautee was the leading Australian after a superb final 36 holes of 66 and 68 today to finish in a share of 7th with defending champion Yuxin Lin.
“I was quite happy with today’s finish. Played pretty solid. A lot of good shots out there. It was great the last two days to be able to post a few good scores,” said Lautee.
“It’s a world-class event. It’s nothing like I’ve ever played before. It’s perfectly run. The players get looked after so well. I’m looking forward to playing it again next year.”
Perth’s Connor McKinney was 18th, Perth’s Haydn Barron 21st, Victorian Lukas Michel, Perth’s Hayden Hopewell 26th and Adelaide’s Lachlan Barker 31st.
Jimmy Zheng was the only New Zealander in the event and finished 36th.
“It’s been a great experience,” said Zheng. “I learned a lot this week about my game and how I should prepare better next time. It was definitely a grind out there today.
“I’m going to work my butt off over the off-season at Duke. I’ll really get my game in the place I want it to be and hopefully come back again next year to grab that trophy.”