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Cal senior breaks a legend's course record to lead Asia-Pacific Amateur

October 28, 2023
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Sampson Zheng leads after three rounds of the Asia-Pacific Amateur. (Photo courtesy of Asia-Pacific Amateur)

MELBOURNE, Australia — A day after decorated British amateur golfer Sir Michael Bonallack was laid to rest, the amateur course record he held for 55 years at Royal Melbourne’s Composite course was beaten. If the five-time winner of Britain’s Amateur Championship could have seen the howling winds on Day 3, he would have impressed at Sampson Zheng’s six-under 65. The Cal senior from China will take a four-stroke lead into the final round of the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship with an invitation to the 2024 Masters and Open Championship on the line.

Zheng finished on Saturday sitting at three-under 210, with Australia’s Billy Dowling (73) in second at one over. New Zealand’s Kazuma Kobori (74) and China’s Wenyi Ding (76) share third at two over.

Bonallack, who died on Sept. 26, was a nine-time Walker Cup player and former captain of the R&A, which jointly runs the Asia-Pacific Amateur alongside Augusta National. He shot a 66 in the 1968 Eisenhower Trophy (now called the World Amateur Team Championship) at Royal Melbourne. His amateur course record was matched in Round 1 this year by Kobori, and it was beaten on Day 3, despite a howling northerly wind wreaking havoc on the field.

China’s Yanhan Zhou (69) was the only other player to break 70 while there were just four rounds under par. Saturday’s scoring average was 76.5.

Zheng hit plenty of three-quarter swings and flighted his ball low during a round he began sitting six shots behind the lead. The 22-year-old registered four front-nine birdies and just one bogey before a spectacular eagle at the par-5 10th that gave him the lead. At one point, Zheng reached seven under for the day, and he made consecutive birdies at the 12th and 13th before giving a shot back at the 14th. He parred his way in from there to set the amateur record at the course that was last used for international competition at the 2019 Presidents Cup.

“To be able to shoot 65 like I did in the conditions like this today where everyone else is not having the best, it feels even more special,” Zheng said.

“I’ve played in similar conditions, but nothing like this. This is the toughest condition I’ve ever played in. I think I just got the best of the golf course today. The golf course is still a beast.

“One thing I did really well was adjusting to how the golf course changed, into the wind, downwind, how much the ball is going to roll and where the miss is, where is the uphill putts and just basic stuff like that kept my round going.”

Watch Zheng’s round in 60 seconds:

Commentator and former Presidents Cup player Frank Nobilo said Zheng’s play in such conditions was unlike anything he’d seen for some time. “The quality of shot-making was just a different level today,” Nobilo remarked on the broadcast.

The professional course record on the Royal Melbourne Composite course is a 12-under 60 scored by South African Ernie Els in the opening round of the 2004 Heineken Classic on a calm summer’s day.

Zheng is in prime position to claim the winner’s prize of getting into the field at next year’s Masters and 152nd Open Championship at Royal Troon.

“I just keep reminding myself the job’s not done and I have 18 holes to play tomorrow. I’m a little nervous but I’m feeling pretty good,” he said.