Jin wins Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship
HONG KONG—Sometime early next year, Cheng Jin will receive an official-looking envelope carrying an Augusta, Ga., postmark. Once he opens his mail, inside he will find an invitation to compete in the 2016 Masters Tournament.
(Cheng JIN and the Trophy)
Yet if not for some solid play on the 18th hole last Saturday during the third round of the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship at Clearwater Bay Golf and Country Club, Jin wouldn’t be making plans to make his PGA TOUR debut at Augusta National Golf Club next April. However, Jin can credit two things that happened late in his third round for the win: a drive on what turned out to be his final hole of the tournament—with a 35 mph wind howling—and a deft chip shot from off the green that led to a tap-in birdie.
With Typhoon Mujigae bearing down on Hong Kong on Saturday afternoon, Jin had heard the rumors. He knew there was a chance the storm would force officials to cancel the next day’s final round of the tournament.
Keeping that thought in mind, the teenager piped a drive down the middle of the fairway, hit his second-shot approach on the par-5 just off the green then trickled his eagle chip to two inches short of the hole that led to a birdie. That sequence allowed him to break free from a tie with Australia’s Ryan Ruffels and Cameron Davis, giving him a one-shot lead going into the final round.
Unfortunately, Mujigae had a say in the matter, and the final round never took place, officials canceling the remaining 18 holes due to unplayable conditions. Jin’s 54-hole score was enough to give him the victory.
While the consensus seemed to be that Jin’s 18th-hole-chip-shot heroics won him the tournament, Jin was more anxious to talk about his drive on the same hole, a shot he considered his best of the tournament.
“It was a really good lie,” Jin said of his eagle chip on 18 that led to the birdie. “But I still like my drive on 18 better because of the wind. I still don’t know how I hit the ball so straight.” Facing a left-to-right gale coming off the South China Sea, Jin tried to hit a draw into the slice wind, and his ball stayed remarkably straight, landing about 270 yards from the tee.
“It was a big downhill hole, and it did get some roll,” Jin admitted. “But that wind was really blowing. After hitting such a good drive in that wind, I thought I was supposed to birdie the hole.”
He thought correctly, his final stroke of the tournament the gimme tap-in that moved him to 11-under and ultimately gave him the title. Had he hit a poor drive or not hit such a phenomenal chip, had he merely parred the hole and remained tied with the two Aussies, Ruffels would have claimed the victory as the higher-ranked player in the World Amateur Golf Ranking.
When Sunday arrived, though, Jin came ready to play. “We heard the rumors. But I thought with the weather we would definitely play because the sky looked sunny,” Jin added. Once at the course, Jin warmed up and hit a few balls before officials called the players in from the range. “It was really windy, but the sky kept getting brighter and brighter. So even though we came in, I was even more ready to play,” Jin continued.
And why wouldn’t he want to play after the week he’d already had?
In his opening round, Jin only missed one fairway all day on his way to a tournament-record, 8-under 62 that gave him the lead. He followed that with a 68 and the 36-hole advantage. He added a 3-under 69 Saturday in his wire-to-wire victory. Jin credited his experience over the last two seasons playing on the Ping An Bank China Tour – PGA TOUR China Series as a major benefit.
“On PGA TOUR China, I have learned so many things from so many different players. They are great tournaments to participate in, and I learn a lot from them,” Jin added.
Of course the entire field at the Series’ 2014 Nine Dragons Open figured out that Jin has game just as the Asia-Pacifc Amateur Championship entrants learned.
A year ago, trailing Lucas Lee late in the final round of the Nine Dragons event, Jin pounced when Lee stumbled. In the wind and rain in Jiaxing, Jin made history when he became the first amateur to win on PGA TOUR China. It’s not lost on Jin that Lee just earned his 2015-16 PGA TOUR membership after a successful Web.com Tour year. That week in Jiaxing, Jin also defeated close pursuers Sam Chien, Hao Tong Li, Bryden Macpherson and Brett Drewitt, who all would go on to play on to the 2015 Web.com Tour with Lee.
With another new trophy decorating his home, Jin will spend this week in Beijing relaxing and not competing. He’ll then get ready for the Asian Tour’s Macau Open next week. With a busy schedule, he still hasn’t determined if he’ll defend his Nine Dragons Open title outside Shanghai, Nov. 19-22. So far this season, he’s played six PGA TOUR China Series’ tournaments, with a pair of top-10s to his credit. “I’m not sure yet,” he said.
One place he does know where he’ll be is the Georgia city that hosts a certain golf tournament the second week every April.
“For me to go to Augusta for the Masters is just going to be amazing. I’m really excited and looking forward to playing there,” he said.
(Image by Courtesy Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship)