Jazz Janewattananond’s return to form at the weekend will have seen him, and his huge army of fans in Asia, take a huge sigh of relief after a frustrating season so far.
His joint third finish in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open stopped the bleeding on a poor run of results and will give him much needed confidence heading into the final quarter of the 2020 – which starts this week at the Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open, followed next week by the BMW PGA Championship.
The Thai star came very close to winning the prestigious Irish event and held the lead on the back nine on Sunday at Galgorm Spa & Golf Resort in Northern Ireland. But he dropped shots on the inward stretch to finish three adrift of the winner and fellow Asian Tour member John Catlin from the United States.
Great being back on the @europeantour this week at #DDFIrishOpen ?? and being in contention on a Sunday! Next stop ??????? #seriousface #trustgolf @fashion1thailand #thisisboss https://t.co/gVgeygyO9P pic.twitter.com/ZWHTVLdDZv
— Jazz Janewattananond (@jazzjanegolf) September 27, 2020
Jazz also obviously benefited from having his regular caddie, Camp Pulit, back on the bag having missed his previous few tournaments.
The result also had a significant impact on his world ranking: he moved up from 65th position to 56th and put him back on course to try and better his best placing on the ranking, which was 38th position – which was the result of his brilliant 2019 season.
Getting back into the top-50 – which opens the door to playing in the biggest events in the game – is now well and truly in his sights.
Catlin, whose win in Ireland was his second on the European Tour in September, also enjoyed a significant shift up the ranking, moving from 138th to 84th.
Jazz had started the year on a massive high after winning four times last season en route to winning the Asian Tour Order of Merit title. And a third place finish in the SMBC Singapore Open in January suggested more was to come.
However, he then missed the cut in seven of the next 11 events he played in; which, in fairness to Jazz, was the result of a change of geographical location and, of course, the upheaval caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
He has been playing on the PGA Tour, through sponsor invites, and also competed in the US Open and US PGA Championship – the event where he famously finish jointed 14th last year.
He missed the cut in both the Majors and also in four out of the other six PGA Tour events he played – although he will have no doubt learned a great deal as he bids to join his countryman Kiradech Aphibarnrat as a full member of the lucrative circuit.
But it was not always a struggle for Jazz in the States.
After bumping into Sweden’s Daniel Chopra – a winner on both the Asian Tour and PGA Tour – at Bay Hill in the week leading up to the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, the Swede invited Jazz to stay with his family and when lockdown hit because of COVID-19 on March 13, Chopra did not hesitate to invite Jazz and his caddie, Camp, back to his Orlando home to seek refuge.
Earlier in the year he also benefitted from a lesson with Tiger Woods’ putting coach.
After struggling on the greens, Jazz sought the advice of Matt Killen, whose star pupils include 82-time PGA Tour winner Woods and 2017 FedExCup champion, Justin Thomas. It also helped that Jazz is part of the same management stable as Woods and Thomas. Jazz flew to Nashville for a three-hour lesson with Killen.
By V.Krishnaswamy, @Swinging_Swamy
Anirban Lahiri felt confident even before he teed up last week at the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship so much so he did not book a return ticket home but instead booked himself on a charter to the next venue. Yet, he found himself four-over after the first three holes, before beginning a terrific fightback and finished tied-sixth at the end of the event at Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.
Lahiri was amply rewarded for the way he backed himself as he shot 2-under 70 on the final day to total 13-under for the week and finish T-6, his first Top-10 in almost two years since the T-10 in the Mayakoba Golf Classic in Mexico in November, 2018. He was also T-6 at WGC-Bridgestone in August, 2018.
Hudson Swafford (69), who at one stage held a four-shot lead managed to hang in and fend off Tyler McCumber (66), who played with Lahiri, to win the title. Swafford totalled 18-under, one ahead of McCumber, while Mackenzie Hughes (70) was third at 16-under.
Swafford’s second PGA Tour win, the first since 2017, earned him 500 FedExCup points and entries to the Sentry Tournament of Champions, 2021 Masters Tournament, THE PLAYERS Championship and PGA Championship.
While Lahiri logged a fine finish, his colleague Arjun Atwal (77) slipped and ended T-70. What was even more pleasing for Lahiri was that the Top-10 finish ensured him a spot in next week’s Sanderson Farms Championship.
Lahiri said, “Well, I did not book a return flight and I booked myself on the charter (to the next venue), so this is going to be good for my confidence because I backed myself to do this.”
About next week’s Sanderson Farms, an event he has played in the past, Lahiri said, “I wasn’t in (he was the ninth alternate at one stage). Now this (Top-10) gets me in.”
Lahiri had the second highest number of birdies this week at 22 and led the field in putts per Greens In Regulation.
On Sunday, Lahiri made birdies on sixth, eighth, 12th and 15th and dropped shots on third and 11th.
Lahiri, who did not have taken advantage of any of the Par-5s on the final day, said, “I felt really good after my first event in Napa. I had two really good rounds to finish that event as well, so I got it rolling here with some of that. Definitely I’ve managed to build that snowball and build some momentum. Hopefully I use this going forward and kind of keep this going and maybe even play a little better.”
It was a disastrous start for Lahiri on the opening day as he had a triple bogey on the second and a bogey on third to go 4-over through his opening three holes. He fought back with an eagle and a bunch of birdies and finished the first round at 69 and 72 on the second saw him make the cut on the line at 3-under.
It was Saturday’s flawless 64, that ironically included a 3-putt, which brought Lahiri into the picture.
Lahiri admitted, “The last couple of seasons, I’ve been very disappointing, and where I find myself in my eligibility is not great, so I need to play myself into some of the events that I like to play. Definitely have a lot of opportunities in the fall that I need to take and build on that. Hopefully get closer to being really in contention on Sunday. I’ve had outside chances, but the goal is to kind of get to the last few with a realistic chance or maybe even a lead.”
Meanwhile, China’s Xinjun Zhang, who started the final round in fourth position, endured a disappointing final round as he closed with a 74 to finish tied 11th, his second top-15 finish of the 2020-21 PGA TOUR Season after coming in T14 at the Safeway Open two weeks ago.
Joohyung Kim (72) was T-33 and Kiradech Aphibarnrat (69) ended T-70 alongside Atwal.
Nate Lashley (69) was fourth and overnight leader, Adam Long (75) fell to fifth. Lahiri tied for sixth with James Hahn (69).
American John Catlin completed a memorable day for members from the Asian Tour on Sunday by winning the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Galgorm Spa & Golf Resort.
It was his second win on the European Tour in the space of four weeks and will see him add the prestigious title to an impressive trophy cabinet that also includes the silverware from four wins on the Asian Tour and two triumphs on the Asian Development Tour.
Thailand’s Jazz Janewattananond, last year’s Asian Tour Order of Merit champion, also excelled by finishing in a tie for third while Scott Hend from Australia – the winner of 10 titles on the Asian Tour – was equal 11th, with another Asian Tour winner Justin Harding from South Africa.
Catlin, voted the Players’ Player of the Year on the Asian Tour thanks to three victories in 2018, birdied three out of the last four holes to card a brilliant closing six-under-par 64 – for a tournament total of 10 under.
He won by two from England’s Aaron Rai – the overnight leader – to earn €199,750 (approximately US$ 232,356).
Earlier in the month, the American held off two-time major champion Martin Kaymer from Germany to win his maiden European Tour title at the Estrella Damm N.A. Andalucia Masters at Valderrama Golf Club in Spain.
“I’m so happy. I was talking to someone earlier about where I was at four years ago and to be here is so surreal and a testament to my coach and all the hard work we put in. It’s so awesome to just be here,” said Catlin, whose most recent win on the Asian Tour was last year’s Thailand Open.
“There are so many years of hard work that have gone into this moment. It was my goal to win again at the start of this week so to accomplish that is to do something truly, truly special.”
He only dropped one on the last day, at the 13th, and birdied seven holes, including the par-five 18th.
“You never know if you’re going to win or not and to get that monkey off my back at Valderrama really freed me up today to know that I can look myself in the mirror and tell myself honestly that I’ve been here before and I can do it again,” added the 29-year-old Californian.
“I’ve always wanted to play in the Majors, that’s the only level of golf that I haven’t played at and hopefully one day I can win one of those as well.”
He will play in the Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open this week, followed by the BMW PGA Championship.
Jazz, a six-time winner on the Asian Tour and chasing his first win in Europe, closed with a fine 69, to finish three behind Catlin.
The Thai star birdied the tenth to take the solo lead but later made a costly double on 14 after taking a drop.
Over at the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship, India’s Anirban Lahiri came in tied-sixth after closing with a two-under-par 70, marking his first top-10 finish on the PGA TOUR since the 2018 Mayakoba Golf Classic (T10). He earns a spot in this week’s Sanderson Farms Championship thanks to the commendable result.
Korea’s Joohyung Kim settled for a tied-33rd place finish while Arjun Atwal of India and Thai star Kiradech Aphibarnrat were tied in 70th position.
Thailand’s Gunn Charoenkul says two wins in quick succession on the Thailand PGA Tour recently were the result of a new positive mindset, as well as a little inspiration from his new paternal responsibilities.
He won the Singha-SAT Hua Hin Championship in July for his first victory in five years and then two weeks later claimed the Singha-SAT Nakhon Nayok Classic.
“I really needed a win as it had been four or five years,” said Gunn.
“So the mind set on the last day was to play my own game and just keep thinking about winning and just keep myself in the zone. Be relaxed all the time.”
He beat countryman Prom Meesawat by six strokes at Royal Hua Hin Golf Course before overcoming compatriot Nirun Sae-Ueng in a sudden-death play-off in the Nakhon Nayok Classic – played at Royal Hills Golf Resort & Spa.
“I was pretty nervous because I was playing with Prom at his home course, and he pretty much knew all the nooks and crannies of the course,” said Gunn.
“I had a five shot lead on the last day. All of Proms shots were pin high and close but I was fortunate he didn’t make any putts. But I didn’t trust myself at all because I was close to victory.
“My last victory five years ago, I finished with a bogey, or a double, and then a playoff. So it wasn’t until the last, when I had a six shot lead, that I felt confident I can take the trophy home.”
At Royal Hills, he trailed Prayad Marksaeng by three shots on the back nine and felt the legendary Thai star would run away with the tournament.
“I thought maybe finishing third would not be too bad,” said Gunn.
However, Prayad had a hiccup on 16 where he made a double before dropping a shot on 17.
“I had a 20 footer on 18 for birdie to make a play-off. But I never had a good experience when I needed to hole an important putt. So I didn’t take it that seriously and thought I would miss it. And I misread the putt but somehow I made it,” added the Thai.
Niran found water with his second when they returned to 18 for the play-off leaving Gunn in the drivers’ seat.
“I told myself just hit the green otherwise it is going to be a long day. I hit it on the green and made my birdie putt so it was all over. It was a breakthrough for me as when I lost a lead in the past I never made a comeback. So this was the first time for me. So I guess if there is a next time I can believe there is a chance I can win again,” said Gunn.
His wife Koyy gave birth to their daughter, Vera, in February and he feels that has also helped to put a better complexion on things.
He says: “It has made a big difference to my life. I don’t really have any time for myself now. All my time goes to her. I keep myself busy, doing laundry, cooking her food, doing kids club, swimming class. So it is a new experience for me. I have always been pretty introvert, just happy staying home, but now I am going out and seeing the world.
“I don’t get to practice so much but it does take my mind off the golf game a bit. If I get a chance I can check my swing in a mirror. It has really helped to relax myself a bit.”
Gunn was in brilliant form last year on the Japan Golf Tour Organization – he finished 21st on the Money List with 10 top-10s – and made an outstanding start on the Asian Tour this year: he was third in the Hong Kong Open and reached ninth place on the Order of Merit before the Tour was put on hold by the coronavirus pandemic.
“My mentality before was I never really appreciated the small things in my life, but now I do and I feel very happy. And all the happy little things add up so when I am on the course I feel very relaxed. Just in my own comfort zone. To perform well, you have to find your own comfort zone, to perform at your best.”
By V.Krishnaswamy, @Swinging_Swamy
Anirban Lahiri and Arjun Atwal will tee up together in the same group at the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship starting on Thursday. While Lahiri, who was T-36 at Safeway Open, makes his second start of the season, Atwal, who played four events when golf returned after the hiatus due to Covid-19, makes his first start of the new season. They are grouped together alongside David Hearn in the Dominican Republic.
There is more Indian connection, as the field also includes two-time PGA Tour winner, the Indo-Swede Daniel Chopra, a great friend of both Lahiri and Atwal. Yet another one in the field is 18-year-old left-hander Akshay Bhatia, who is of Indian origin, but was born and brought up in the United States, and is now mentored by Phil Mickelson.
Lahiri and Atwal go off together at 11.30 am local time on first day, while Daniel Chopra plays with Johnson Wagner and Seamus Power in one of the earliest groups at 6.50 am, and Akshay Bhatia plays with Ted Purdy, who an Asian Tour event in India in 1997, and Joseph Bramlett at 8 am.
The Asian Tour flag will also be flown by Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Joohyung Kim and Kurt Kitayama this week.
Lahiri was happy with his start at Safeway Open and is hoping to gain further momentum, as he makes his debut at the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship in the Dominican Republic.
A confident Lahiri, said, “The game feels really good at the moment. Safeway was a good confidence booster as after the bad start, I was able to finish strong which felt great.”
Playing in his sixth season on the PGA Tour, Lahiri had done well to recover from a first round 74 at Safeway to add rounds of 65, 67 and 70. It was his best finish since T30 at the Valspar Championship in March, 2019 and his second round 65 was his lowest score since shooting the same number during the second round of the John Deere Classic in July, 2019.
“I spent a lot of time during lockdown in India, where I went for Hero Indian Open (his last win came at the same event in 2015) but with it being cancelled and the lockdown happening I stayed on in India with the family. And I returned for just one event, Wyndham, in the previous season and then the Safeway. So, I rested and also worked during my downtime at home with my coach Vijay Divecha,” said Lahiri, a former two-time Presidents Cup International Team member. “We worked on various aspects, broke down everything and did a lot of work on swing and re-built it in a way.”
Lahiri, who is making his first trip to the Corales Golf Club, which has six holes that run along the Caribbean Ocean, said, “The golf course here reminds me of my days on the Asian Tour. Similar grasses and temperatures and conditions to what I played for years back home. Definitely a feeling of familiarity even though it’s my first time here.”
Atwal, India’s first and only winner to date on the PGA TOUR, is seeking a strong start to the 2020-21 season. He played in four events when golf returned to action during the pandemic. He made cuts in three of them, and missed only once in Wyndham, an event he won in 2010.
“It felt good during that stretch and playing four times in seven weeks also gave me an idea of my strength, because during practise rounds, we mostly use carts. I am proud that I held up at 47,” said Atwal with a characteristic laugh. “It will be great to play with Anirban. It is like playing at home and in a great atmosphere and the venue itself is superb. I am looking forward to this.”
The field has some familiar Asian Tour names like Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Kurt Kitayama.
The highest ranked player in the field Henrik Stenson at No. 43 and it also includes the defending champion Graeme McDowell, who while winning the 2019 edition ended a five-year-long PGA Tour title drought, though he won in February this year. He has however missed seven cuts in his last nine starts since the Tour re-started in June.
One of the most keenly watched players will be Will Zalatoris, who in his first start on PGA Tour since Wyndham 2018, finished T-6 at the US Open at Winged Foot. This Korn Ferry graduate is the one to watch for in the near future.
As if the fledgling career of Korean teenager Joohyung Kim could not get any more exciting, this week he tees-off in the Caribbean at the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship – in the Dominican Republic.
And in what is only his third start on the PGA Tour, there is one thing he is focused on.
“It’s what I’ve learned from my past couple of events,” said Kim, at his first virtual press conference on the PGA Tour.
“I think that’s my goal this week, just play really smart, take advantage when you can, not to get too aggressive, just play my own game. And that’s always been me.”
In August, he made his debut on the PGA Tour at the PGA Championship – where he missed the cut in what was also his first appearance at a Major championship.
But two weeks ago at the Safeway Open – the opening event of the 2020/2021 season – impressively, he played all four rounds shooting 67, 72, 75 and 70 to finish in a tie for 67th on four under.
“Sometimes you get gnarly lies here and just tough pins, sometimes you just really have to take your medicine, just make a good bogey instead of like at the Safeway Open. I remember I shot five under the first round, gave myself a good chance, so kind of felt like I wanted to keep shooting under par. I went for a lot of pins which I shouldn’t have, I was playing really aggressive and I feel like sometimes you don’t need to do that,” added the Korean, who is just 18 years old.
“I feel like I was pushing myself a lot and I made a lot of soft bogeys and a lot of mistakes. I didn’t really have the week that I wanted. Even in the PGA Championship, I just kind of pushing too hard. And, you know, with the conditions, sometimes a soft bogey is okay.”
At the PGA Championship he shot rounds of 70 and 77 to miss the cut by six.
Last year, after earning a battlefield promotion from the Asian Development Tour by winning three events, the youngster made an instant impact by winning on just his third start on the Asian Tour at the Panasonic Open India.
That made him the second youngest professional to win on the Asian Tour at 17 years and 149 days, with countryman Seungyul Noh being the youngest when he won the 2008 Midea China Classic at the age of 17 years and 143 days.
When asked about his long-term ambitions in the game, the confident Korean did not beat around the bush.
“I really would love to be world number one. That has always been like a goal just because Tiger Woods was so dominant as world number one for so many years. So that has always been like a major thing for me.
“I would obviously love to play on the PGA Tour, win all four majors, be in the Golf Hall of Fame – just those big things I always would love.”
And when asked how his English name, which is Tom, came about, he replied: “Actually, it was actually Thomas. I got it from Thomas the Train [Thomas the Tank Engine television series] when I was young. As I grew older, some people started calling me Tom and I thought it was just shorter and just simpler. I think by the time I was like 11, I went just by Tom. My brother even calls me Tom. It was kind of natural. And my family calls me Tom as well, my friends all call me Tom, so it kind of came natural to me. It was that kind of a name. I had the whole thing, I had the lunchbox, I had the toys, yeah.”
This week, he has been paired in the first two rounds with Swede Carl Pettersson and Michael Gligic from Canada, at 1pm local time in the Dominican Republic.
Chinese Taipei’s Wang Ter-chang has achieved so much in the game, including six victories across the region, but ‘not a lot of people know that’ he also made an important contribution to Malaysian golf.
On this day 18 years ago, Danny Chia made history by becoming the first Malaysian to win on the Asian Tour – a long-awaited and monumental achievement.
He did it at the Acer Taiwan Open, played at Sunrise Golf and Country Club in the hills of Northern Taiwan, in dramatic circumstances emboldened in the annals of Asian golf.
And what role did Wang play? Well, he kindly let the young Malaysian stay at his home for the week; no small matter for Chia who was trying to find his feet on the Asian Tour – so home comforts and any edge he could get were very welcomed at the time.
Staying at the home of one of the country’s most prominent golfers is only a small part of what is an inspiring tale.
Chia had been unsuccessful in his attempt to negotiate the qualifying school that year and wrote to the organiser of Chinese Taipei’s National Open to ask for an invite.
At the age of 29 years old then, he was Malaysia’s number one golfer – and a three-time winner of the Malaysian Amateur Championship – so he was warmly welcomed to the prestigious event.
The weather, however, was not so welcoming.
“It [the weather] was like a typhoon,” says Chia, speaking to the Asian Tour from his home in Kuala Lumpur last week.
“The whole week was like a typhoon and the golf course was very exposed. The course is not difficult, it’s quite a nice golf course to play, but it’s just the wind, and we were very high up in the mountains, which affected things very much.”
Having turned professional in 1996, he had already played in a handful of events on Tour each season up until that point.
And, earlier in 2002 he produced his best finish on Tour when he claimed a sixth-place finish at the Casino Filipino Open to suggest that his fortunes might be on the up.
But after opening rounds of 76, 70 and 77 at Sunrise, he was seven behind leader Hsieh Yu-shu of Chinese Taipei, and on Sunday he was paired in the sixth last group out – with Kao Bo-song (a leading amateur who, a month later, was part of the Chinese-Taipei team that claimed the gold medal in the Asian Games in Busan, South Korea).
Chances of winning seemed very slim but the very poor weather meant Hsieh’s four-shot lead over second-placed American Andrew Pitts was very vulnerable.
“The weather was bad the whole day, whether you played early or late,” said Chia.
“The front nine I didn’t really think much about it, I was trying to enjoy it. I was hitting the ball well. I was hitting a lot of low shots because of the wind.”
And, this is where the other remarkable element to the story kicks in.
“I just went under Kel Llewellyn at that time. I had only been working with him for about one month and he taught me a lot about playing different types of shots. It really helped when I played that week.
“I was hitting well before heading there. Kel gave me a lot of new stuff to work on. A lot of breathing exercises, a lot of stretching. I used to hit a lot of draw shots, but Kel got me hitting a lot of left to right shots. We worked on the short game a lot and how to hit low ball flight shots.”
The timing of engaging one of the region’s top coaches to teach him to hit shots low could not have been better. And the breathing exercises were just as important as he started to mount a challenge.
“After the front nine, then I saw the leaderboard, and I think I was four behind. I started to get nervous and couldn’t stop looking at the leaderboard. I hit some good shots, but they didn’t quite pay off because the wind was quite strong and tricky. I didn’t hit many greens on the back nine but I had very good up-and-downs on a lot of the holes.”
Incredibly, the record will show that Chia was the only player on that final day not to drop a shot but he did conjure a succession of great saves.
Crucially, he holed a six footer for par on 16 and on the following hole he made a putt to save par from eight feet.
Then, on the par-five 18th, he said: “I think I made the biggest decision of my career”.
“It was dead into the wind. I hit a very good drive, on the left centre of the fairway. The second shot was about 200 metres to the green, but I had to hit over a pond. I was two behind at that time and I told myself ‘this is my chance to win’.
“It is a par-five and I would normally lay up because it was quite a strong headwind but I said this is my chance to win my first title on the Asian Tour and I am going to take it – no matter what the outcome is.”
He went for the green with a four wood. The wind was blowing really hard right to left into his face so he aimed about 20 yards right of the green to let the wind take it.
Rising confidently to the occasion he hit it exactly where he wanted but the wind was so strong his ball flew left of the green.
Said Chia: “But it was over the water! It was a very, very big relief when that happened. I chipped it to about eight or 10 feet short of the hole and I made the putt.”
He said he felt like he signed for a 60 as opposed to a four-under-par 68 – which gave him a four-round total of three-over-par 291.
At that moment he was tied for the lead and opted to wait in front of the leaderboard until everyone finished.
“I watched them come in one by one,” he said.
“I was kind of prepared for a play-off but if I knew then what I know now, I would have realised I had really already won because of the weather.”
Chinese Taipei’s Lin Chie-hsiang did his best to catch Chia and toured the back nine in three-under but still fell two short of the Malaysian’s winning total.
And Hsieh, battling the elements, dropped four shots in the last five holes to close with a 77 and join Lin in second place.
“I felt so bad for him [Hsieh] actually,” said Chia, who won a cheque for US$50,000 – a princely sum for a hungry young pro.
“That night I had a good dinner with Wang Ter-chang’s family, but it didn’t really hit me at that time. But at about mid-night before I slept it hit me. I started looking at the trophy and thought, oh god I have won!”
We spoke recently with our 2013 Asian Tour Order of Merit champion, Kiradech Aphibarnrat of Thailand, who shared with us how the Tour has been a springboard to success in his career. The 31-year-old Kiradech is a three-time winner on the Asian Tour and in 2019, he became the first Thai player to earn full membership on the PGA TOUR.