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Higginbottom chasing Asian Tour status

(Photo: Asian Tour)
Hua Hin, Thailand, January 22: Australia's Jake Higginbottom believes his pathway to success lies with making the grade at the Asian Tour Qualifying School Final Stage presented by Sports Authority of Thailand which starts on Wednesday.

The gruelling test where the top-40 and ties earn playing privileges for the 2013 Asian Tour season will be played at the Imperial Lakeview Golf Club and Springfield Royal Country Club.

Higginbottom served notice of his talent when he became the first amateur in more than half a century to win the New Zealand Open last year. He immediately turned professional two days after his breakthrough victory and has been hailed by many as the next star to emerge from Australia.

"The reason why I want to play on the Asian Tour is because Asia's a good place and it's close to home. It's going to be a long week but I do look forward to playing. The course is nice so I think it should be good," said Higginbottom.

Having played alongside some of the world's best players that include American legend Tom Watson, the 19-year-old is hoping that he can get the opportunity to play against Asia's best if he makes it through the week.

"I'm definitely looking forward to playing with the top Asian Tour players. There are a lot of good Asian players around. I'm now trying to get a spot here on the Asian Tour and really looking forward to play here this year," said the Australian.

The complete list of Australians at the Final Stage includes Adam Groom, Anthony Choat, Blair Wilson, Blake McGrory, Brad Smith, Daniel Bringolf, Darren Tan, David Lutterus, Dimi Papapdatos, Gavin Flint, Jake Higginbottom, James McMillan, Jordan Sherratt, Justin Smith, Kane Webber, Kunal Bhasin, Luke Bleumink, Matt Jager, Matthew Sieger, Matthew Zions, Michael Moore, Ryan Bulloch, Ryan McCarthy, Sam Brazel, Tim Stewart and Tony Carolan.

China's Hu Mu is also eyeing a coveted place at this week's Asian Tour Qualifying School.

An accomplished golfer who won the under 18-year-old division at the China Junior Golf Open in 2001 when he was just 11 year old, Hu is now bent on setting his sights higher.

"I've played four events on the Asian Tour last year and I really like the environment so I decided to take a run at it and try to get a full status out here," said Hu.

The 23-year-old moved to the United States with his family to train, compete and study at age 11.

He earned a scholarship to University of Florida, where he featured prominently on the U.S. college circuit before graduating with a business degree.

However, it's the play-for-pay ranks that the Chinese is now hoping to make his career breakthrough.

"I've been playing golf all my life and through all these years of hard work, I thought I should give it a shot and start playing professional golf," said Hu.

Meanwhile Brunei's Prince Hakeem Jefri is also among the hopefuls eager to pass the brutal test and earn his Tour card this week.

Having grown up watching his grandfather play golf, the 39-year-old is relishing the experience of seeing how far his game has progressed this week.

"This is a new experience for me and I'm excited to see how I'm going to fare. Golf has always been my love from young," said Hakeem who picked up the sport when he was seven years old.

"I've always wanted to turn professional and was just looking for the right time to do so. If I do it any later, it will probably not worth doing it. I'm here and I want to enjoy this ride for as long as I can," added the Prince.

Prince Hakeem, who is the eldest son of Prince Jefri Bolkiah, a brother of the Brunei Sultan could become the first Bruneian to graduate from the Asian Tour Qualifying School if he plays true to form.

However, he prefers to stay grounded and not get ahead of himself.

"I'm very realistic with my goals and being here for the first time, I'll just take whatever comes my way," said Hakeem.

Other notable names this week include India's Rashid Khan, a member of the silver medal winning team in the 2010 Asian Games, Han Chang-won of Korea, the 2009 Asian Amateur Championship winner and Kenichi Kuboya, a multiple winner in Japan.

Players who play in the Qualifying School are also eligible to play in the Asian Development Tour (ADT) which will be afforded with Official World Golf Ranking points starting this season.

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