DUBAI, UAE — It isn’t always about finishing first. Sometimes, victory is achieved just by being there, taking part. Even more so if you are beating an unprecedented path for a nation where the first course was built as recently as 1996. Ladies and gentlemen, we give you Vanseiha Seng of Cambodia, a man with a unique place in the history of the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship.
When the 12th playing of this massive region’s most important amateur event tees off on the Dubai Creek course in the United Arab Emirates this week, Seng—who has a small Koi fish business in his home city of Phnom Penh—will be the only player in the 93-man field drawn from 30 countries who can say he has competed in all 12. Not with any great distinction, it must be admitted. Seng’s best score is a three-over-par 73 at the Sentosa Golf Club in Singapore three years ago. And he has yet to make a halfway cut in any of the starts that have taken him to China on three occasions, Singapore (twice), Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea.
But that is to miss the point. What is failure for some is success for others.
“I want to make it clear that the journey so far has not been a disappointment,” says Seng, 28, who became a father for the first time only a month ago.
So Seng’s importance to the game he learned from his army general father at the Royal Cambodia Golf Club goes far beyond mere birdies and bogeys. When Seng was part of the inaugural AAC in 2009 at Mission Hills in China, his home country boasted only two courses. Now there are 10. While it might be a bit of a stretch to give him 100 percent credit for that 500-percent increase, it is also undeniable that Seng’s presence in such a high-caliber event can only have had a positive effect on the game’s admittedly low public-profile in Cambodia.
“I was so excited that I could be a part of the championship in 2009,” he says. “But I also knew it would be very difficult. And when I reached Mission Hills, I could see the superior level of competition and the preparedness of the players from other countries.”
Seng is a better player now though, even if he concedes that his wayward driving needs some work if he is to break the bad habit he has developed over the last 12 years and make it to the final 36-holes.
“My preparation now is so much better than it was in 2009,” he said after completing his maiden practice round this week in the company of compatriot Pich Meta Peou. “Back then, I knew how to hit the golf ball, but the AAC has taught me such crucial elements of the game, like course management, warm-up routines and physical training. All I did then was turn up and play. Now I’m aware of where I want my tee shots to finish. Do I need to hit fade or draw? I’m more knowledgeable and sophisticated. Today, for example, I took many notes on the greens, which have many slopes.”
Seng is quick to attribute much of his improvement and development to the experience he has gained in the AAC, which offers an invitation to the Masters and an exemption into the Open Championship to the winner. Last year, he and Peou attended a week-long training camp in Singapore, courtesy of the AAC. Cambodia has no teaching professionals, the better players forced to learn through YouTube videos and advice passed among one another.
“This event has been so important to my development,” continued Seng, whose career best score over 18 holes is five under par. “To play at this level is so exciting. They make us feel so special when we play. Plus, of course, everyone wants to go to Augusta National. And the whole tournament is run so well. Everyone is so professional. I wish it got more attention at home. But golf in my country has a way to go. It is still a game played mainly by the high-ranking people. But doing well this week could change that. My big aim this week is to make the cut. That would be a big victory for me.”
And for the AAC.