Date: January 12, 2016
Author: Mark Hayes

Kevin’s the Yuan to beat

Kevin Yuan is a big, shiny talent in a small, shy package.

He’s also the new holder of the Metropolitan’s amateur course record after carding a spectacular eight-under-par 64 today to lead the men’s Australian Amateur Championship, presented by Swinging Skirts.

Yuan, a semi-finalist in 2015, again showed his liking for the event with six birdies and an eagle in a blemish-free opening round, all but ensuring his berth in the matchplay phase from Thursday with a two-shot lead.

Late in the afternoon, former Wagga Wagga youngster Charles Pilon – transplanted to the Hills International School made famous by Jason Day in Queensland – fired a seven-birdie 66 to sit second.

Yuan, like Emirates Australian Open winner Matt Jones a member of The Australian, has support at the top of the leaderboard from clubmate and training partner Isaac Noh.

Noh joined South Australian youngster Liam Georgiadis and Queenslander James Macklin in a tie for third at 67, with all the leaders having played Metropolitan.

The best scores from nearby Kingswood, with the clubs sharing the opening 36 holes of strokeplay, was Queensland duo Shae Wools-Cobb and Jarrod Stirling’s pair of 68s, while England’s Ashton Turner shot the same score at Metropolitan.

But the day belonged to Yuan, whose round was described by marker Josh Brumm as “easily the best” he’d seen.

Even more remarkable is that the softly spoken Sydneysider was playing just his fifth competitive round since a serious wrist injury in September sidelined him for almost three months.

The lightly built Yuan was returning weights to a rack when he hurt his wrist and did not play competitively until last week’s Master of the Amateurs.

 “I was actually not doing exercise (at the time of suffering the injury), but just moving the weights,” he said.

“My wrist healed in time and I was able to hit balls in early December but I could only sort of much around until a few weeks ago.

“But I put in some pretty good work over Christmas, so I’m pretty happy with how I’m playing.

“I went out there with an open mind and tried to get a few birdies on the par-fives and the shorter par-fours and make pars on the tougher holes and I think that’s what I did.”

A bonus came on the par-five eighth hole when he lasered a 3-iron to within 2m from where he rolled in an eagle putt.

“It’s an amazing golf course to shoot 64 at – I had so much fun out there and playing such a good course and hitting the shots I had in my mind.

“I hold the Aussie Amateur in high regard and I have tried to practise hard for it and I think I’ve done my work … despite my injury.”

It matched Yuan’s lowest career round at Twin Creeks in western Sydney.

Pilon, just 17, left his Wagga home almost two years ago to further his golf and education in Queensland and considers himself a Maroon in all things bar rugby league.

Impressively in just his second outing on a Sandbelt course after making his debut last week at Royal Melbourne, Pilon made no tangible errors after a bogey on the 12th, his third hole.

“It was awesome – I was hoping to get out there and shoot around square to continue towards the matchplay, but I was rolling my putts in, hitting some good shots and not too many mistakes, so it all went to plan,” he said.

In a quirk of fate, Pilon qualified 12th for the matchplay phase last year in his first Aussie Amateur outing, but was knocked out in the first round by Yuan.

Among those with work to do tomorrow are Golf Australia national squad member Zach Murray and his Victorian Institute of Sport teammate David Micheluzzi who each shot 75 at Kingswood.

Perth prodigy Min Woo Lee fired a flat 78, while New Zealand No.1 Luke Toomey had a 77, also both at Kingswood.

The second round begins tomorrow at 7.30am with the top 64 men advancing to the matchplay phase from Thursday.