Fit to be Thai Jaidee with Masters Incentive

By Associated PressApril 5, 2006, 4:00 pm
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Thai golfer Thongchai Jaidee has some extra incentive to make the cut in his first Masters: A potential audience with the king.
 
No, not Arnold Palmer. A REAL king, with a crown and everything. If Thongchai plays well at Augusta National, it just might earn him an audience with Thailand's revered monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
 
Thongchai Jaidee
Thongchai Jaidee is the first Thai-born player competing in the Masters Tournament.
'This was my dream before. I wanted to play, but I had no chance,' he said Wednesday after a practice round at Augusta National. 'I was very happy for my country, very proud for my country. It's news in my country.'
 
Thongchai (his name is pronounced TONG-chi JI-dee) is a former paratrooper who only turned professional after his military service ended seven years ago. But he's been in the top three on the Asian Tour money list each of the last five years, finishing first in 2004 and 2001. He became the first Thai-born player to win on the European Tour when he won the Malaysian Open in 2004, and defended the title the following year.
 
He's also played in the other three major championships, finishing 52nd at last year's British Open and 74th at the U.S. Open in 2001. He played in the last two PGA Championships, missing the cut each time.
 
But none of that compares to playing in the Masters.
 
The Masters often gives exemptions to foreign players who wouldn't qualify otherwise, and Thongchai had hoped to get an invitation last year. He didn't, and was thrilled to learn two weeks ago that he was being included in this year's field.
 
Thongchai, 36, is only the second Thai-born golfer to play at Augusta, and the first since Sukree Onsham in 1971. Sukree also played in 1970, but didn't make the cut either year.
 
'This is a very, very big tournament,' he said. 'No. 1 in the world.'
 
So big that he used to go to bed early, sleep for a few hours and then wake up at 2 a.m. to watch it live.
 
'This is the tournament he wants to be in,' said Posom Meeposum, Thongchai's caddie. 'He's enjoying himself right now.'
 
He certainly looked at home Wednesday. Though he's only 5-foot-7 and 168 pounds, he's got a smooth, compact stroke that gets surprising distance. He repeatedly outdrove playing partner K.J. Choi, and his tee shot on the 460-yard, par-4 No. 9 left him an easy wedge shot to the green.
 
'He can hit it,' Posom said. 'Most people are surprised because he is a small guy. But he packs some power.'
 
Though he was stunned at how big the crowds were Monday, he looked as if he's gotten used to them. He stopped several times to chat with fans, and he smiled and twirled his driver when someone yelled, 'Nice shot!' as he walked off the No. 8 tee.
 
It helps that he's got his own cheering section. Charlie Niyomkul, an Atlanta restaurant owner who catered Vijay Singh's champions dinner in 2001, is related to Thongchai by marriage, and he's brought his whole family for the week.
 
'It's historical for us,' Niyomkul said. 'The whole country is very proud of what he does.'
 
Thongchai grew up in Lop Buri, about 95 miles north of Bangkok. His father worked in a factory and his mother in a hospital, and the family didn't have much money.
 
Thongchai played soccer, the national sport, when he was young, and was good enough to represent his province. But his family lived near a golf course, and many of Thongchai's friends were caddies there.
 
'I saw everybody having fun at the golf course, so I thought I'd try it,' he said.
 
Only problem was, he was only 12 then and didn't have money for clubs.
 
One of his caddie friends scrounged up the very old, very worn head of a Wilson 3-iron. Not the whole club, mind you, just the head. But Thongchai improvised, attaching the head to a bamboo stick.
 
He played with that one 'club' for two years.
 
'I have one club for 10 (shots),' he joked. 'Bunker, pitching wedge -- all one club.'
 
Thongchai's friends kept their eyes out for other discards, and he eventually got a full set of clubs. He didn't have formal training, tagging along whenever his friends were allowed to play the course.
 
'I wasn't good,' he said. 'I just tried.'
 
He finally got the chance to hone his game when he joined the army at 18. Though he served as a paratrooper and made over 50 jumps, he also had plenty of time to play golf. He had a solid amateur career, winning the individual titles in both Singapore and Thailand in 1998, and had quick success when he turned professional the following year.
 
He finished in the top 10 in five of the 14 tournaments he played his first season. Two years later, he was first on the Asian tour money list. In 2002, he tied for second at the BMW Asian Open, which also counts on the European tour.
 
He'd like to play on the PGA Tour next year. First, though, there's the Masters.
 
'It's an honor for me,' he said. 'I never thought I'd have the chance.'
 
And if things go well, maybe he'll have a chance to meet the king.
 
Related Links:
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    Garcia leads as Valderrama Masters extends to Monday

    By Will GrayOctober 21, 2021, 3:52 pm

    Weather continues to be the enemy at the Andalucia Valderrama Masters, where Sergio Garcia remains in front as the tournament heads for a Monday finish.

    European Tour officials had already ceded the fact that 72 holes would not be completed this week in Spain, but players were not even able to finish 54 holes before another set of thunderstorms rolled in Sunday afternoon to once again halt play. Garcia remains in front at 10 under, having played seven holes of the third round in even par, while Lee Westwood is alone in second at 7 under.

    Officials had previously stated an intention to play at least 54 holes, even if that meant extending the tournament to Monday, given that this is the final chance for many players to earn Race to Dubai points in an effort to secure European Tour cards for 2019. Next week's WGC-HSBC Champions will be the final event of the regular season, followed by a three-event final series.


    Full-field scores from the Andalucia Valderrama Masters


    Garcia, who won the tournament last year, started the third round with a four-shot lead over Ashley Chesters. He balanced one birdie with one bogey and remains in position for his first worldwide victory since the Asian Tour's Singapore Open in January.

    Westwood, who has his son Sam on the bag this week, made the biggest charge up the leaderboard with four birdies over his first eight holes. He'll have 10 holes to go when play resumes at 9:10 a.m. local time Monday as he looks to win for the first time since the 2015 Indonesian Masters.

    Shane Lowry and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano are tied for third at 6 under, four shots behind Garcia with 10 holes to play, while Chesters made two double bogeys over his first four holes to drop into a tie for sixth.

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    Austin wins Champions tour's playoff opener

    By Associated PressOctober 21, 2018, 9:35 pm

    RICHMOND, Va. -- Woody Austin knew Bernhard Langer was lurking throughout the final nine holes, and he did just enough to hold him off.

    Austin shot a 3-under 69 for a one-stroke victory Sunday in the PGA Tour Champions' playoff-opening Dominion Energy Charity Classic.

    Langer, the defending tournament champion and series points leader, made the turn one shot off the lead, but eight straight pars kept him from ever gaining a share of the lead. Austin's birdie from 6 feet on the closing hole allowed him to hang on for the victory.

    ''It seemed like he couldn't quite get it over the hump,'' Austin said about Langer, who also birdied No. 18. ''I'm not going to feel bad for the guy. The guy's kind of had things go his way for the last 12 years. Now he sees what it's like to have it happen.''

    The 54-year-old Austin finished with an 11-under total for three rounds at The Country Club of Virginia's James River Course. He won his fourth senior title and first since 2016, and said windy and cool conditions that made scoring difficult played to his advantage.

    ''I was happy to see it. I really enjoy a difficult test,'' he said. ''... I enjoy even par meaning something. That's my game.''

    Langer closed with a 70. The winner last week in North Carolina, the 61-year-old German star made consecutive birdies to finish the front nine, but had several birdie putts slide by on the back.


    Full-field scores from the Dominion Energy Charity Classic


    ''I made a couple important ones and then I missed a couple important ones, especially the one on 16,'' Langer said. ''I hit three really good shots and had about a 6-footer, something like that, and I just didn't hit it hard enough. It broke away.''

    Austin dropped a stroke behind Jay Haas and Stephen Ames with a bogey on the par-3 14th. He got that back with a birdie from about 5 feet on the par-4 15th and then got some good fortune on the final hole when his firmly struck chip hit the flag and stopped about 6 feet away.

    ''I always say usually the person that wins gets a break on Sunday,'' he said. ''That was my break.''

    The 64-year-old Haas, the second-round leader after a 65, had a 74 to tie for third with Fran Quinn (69) and Kent Jones (70) at 9 under. Haas was bidding to become the oldest winner in the history of the tour for players 50 and older.

    ''Disappointed, for sure,'' Haas said. ''Not going to get many more opportunities like this, but it gives me hope, too, that I can still do it.''

    The top 72 players qualified for the Charles Schwab Cup Playoffs opener. The top 54 move on to the Invesco QQQ Championship next week in Thousand Oaks, California, and the top 36 after that will advance to the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship in Phoenix.

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    After Further Review: American success stories

    By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 21, 2018, 8:35 pm

    Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

    On the global nature of Koepka's rise to No. 1 ...

    Brooks Koepka is an American superstar, and a two-time winner of his national open. But his rise to world No. 1 in, of all places, South Korea, emphasizes the circuitous, global path he took to the top.

    After winning the CJ Cup by four shots, Koepka was quick to remind reporters that he made his first-ever start as a pro in Switzerland back in 2012. He cracked the top 500 for the first time with a win in Spain, and he broke into the top 100 after a good week in the Netherlands.

    Koepka languished on the developmental Challenge Tour for a year before earning a promotion to the European Tour, and he didn’t make a splash in the States until contending at the 2014 U.S. Open at Pinehurst.

    It’s a testament to Koepka’s adaptability and raw talent that he can handle the heights of Crans-Montana as well as the slopes of Shinnecock Hills or rough of Nine Bridges. And as the scene shifts to China next week, it highlights the global nature of today’s game – and the fact that the best in the world can rise to the occasion on any continent. - Will Gray


    On the resurgence of American women  ...

    American women are on a nice roll again. Danielle Kang’s victory Sunday at the Buick LPGA Shanghai was the third by an American over the last five events. Plus, Annie Park and Marina Alex, emerging American talents looking for their second victories this season, tied for second. So did American Brittany Altomare. Two years ago, Americans won just twice, their fewest victories in a single season in LPGA history. Overall, women from the United States have won seven times this season.

    The Americans are making their move with Stacy Lewis on maternity leave and with Lexi Thompson, the highest ranked American in the world, still looking for her first victory this year. Yes, the South Koreans have won nine times this season, but with four LPGA events remaining in 2018 the Americans actually have a chance to be the winningest nation in women’s golf this year. With all the grief they’ve received the last few years, that would be a significant feat. - Randall Mell

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    In Buick win, Kang overcame demons of mind and spirit

    By Randall MellOctober 21, 2018, 3:33 pm

    Danielle Kang beat three of the most formidable foes in golf Sunday to win the Buick LPGA Shanghai.

    Anxiety.

    Frustration.

    Anger.

    Kang overcame these demons of mind and spirit to win for the second time on tour, backing up her KPMG Women’s PGA Championship victory last year.

    “I’ve been going through a lot mentally,” Kang said.

    Kang birdied four of the last eight holes to close with a 3-under-par 69, coming from one shot back in the final round to win. At 13-under 275, she finished two shots ahead of a pack of seven players, including world No. 2 Ariya Jutanugarn (71) and former world No. 1 Lydia Ko (66).

    It hasn’t been easy for Kang trying to build on her major championship breakthrough last year. She started the fall Asian swing having missed three cuts in a row, five in her last six starts.

    “I had to go through swing changes,” Kang said. “I had the swing yips, the putting yips, everything possibly you could think of.

    “I was able to get over a lot of anxiety I was feeling when I was trying to hit a golf ball. This week I just kept trusting my golf game.”

    Through her swoon, Kang said she was struggling to get the club back, that she was getting mentally stuck to where she could not begin her takeaway. She sought out Butch Harmon, back at her Las Vegas home, for help. She said tying for third at the KEB Hana Bank Championship last week felt like a victory, though she was still battling her demons there.

    “Anxiety over tee balls,” Kang said. “People might wonder what I'm doing. I actually can't pull the trigger. It has nothing to do with the result. Having to get over that last week was incredible for me. Even on the first round, one shot took me, I think, four minutes.”

    Kang, who turned 26 on Saturday, broke through to win last year under swing coach David Leadbetter, but she began working with Harmon while struggling in the second half this year.


    Buick LPGA Shanghai: Articles, photos and videos


    “I was actually very frustrated, even yesterday,” Kang said. “Things just weren't going my way. The biggest thing that Butch tells me is to stay out of my own way. I just couldn't do that. If I had a short putt, I just kept doubting myself. I couldn't putt freely.”

    Kang said her anger and frustration built up again on the front nine Sunday. She made the turn at 1 over for the round. She said her caddie, Oliver Brett, helped her exorcise some anger. After the ninth hole, he pulled her aside.

    This is how Kang remembered the conversation:

    Brett: “Whatever you need to do to let your anger out and restart and refresh, you need to do that now.”

    Kang: “Cameras are everywhere. I just want to hit the bag really hard.”

    Brett: “Here's a wedge. Just smash it.”

    Kang did.

    “Honestly, I thank him for that,” Kang said. “He told me there are a lot birdies out there. I regrouped, and we pretended we started the round brand new on the 10th hole. Then things changed and momentum started going my way. I started hitting it closer and felt better over the putts.”

    Kang said the victory was all about finding a better place mentally.

    “I'm just so happy to be where I'm at today,” Kang said. “I'm just happy that I won.

    “More so than anything, I'm finally at a place where I'm peaceful and happy with my game, with my life . . . . I hope I win more. I did the best I can. I'm going to keep working hard and keep giving myself chances and keep putting myself in contention. I'll win more. I'll play better.”