In the second and final part of our feature on three-time Asian Tour winner Anthony Kang, the American talks about his famous victory at the Maybank Malaysian Open, swing fundamentals and his transition into TV land.
While Anthony Kang always looks back on his victory at Casino Filipino Philippine Open in 1999 as one of the great highlights of his career – because it was his maiden win – his triumph in Malaysia’s National Open 10 years later carries as much significance to him, and perhaps even more.
It is the manner of that win, which came down to a nail-biting finish, which is so important to him.
“At the Maybank Malaysian Open having a chance to hit my second shot on the par-five final hole of the tournament, the 72nd hole, and knowing if I pulled the shot off I was going to win the tournament was an incredible moment and experience.
“To me it is a rare occasion in golf to be in a position to hit that winning shot when the time is ticking off – it happens in other sports like American football, even soccer, or basketball or baseball. So I felt like it was that moment for me and to experience a moment like that, which all great players have – like Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson – I feel fortunate that at least in Malaysia that tournament provided me the opportunity to experience that moment and then fortunately to come out ahead on the right side of it.”
He birdied the 18th at Saujana Golf and Country Club to win by one from four players: England’s David Horsey and Miles Tunnicliff, Thailand’s Prayad Marksaeng and India’s Jyoti Randhawa.
It ended an eight-year title drought and as the event was jointly-sanctioned with the European Tour it secured him playing privileges there.
“As soon as I won, I called my brother and said do you want to come and caddie for me in Europe, because we are going to make millions!” said the American.
He quickly points out that that did not come true but that the opportunity was the most important element.
He adds that his game was gathering momentum in the lead-up to Malaysia: “Before Malaysia, about two years prior to, I was playing pretty solid golf. I wasn’t hitting any wild shots. I was very consistent, week after week, and I was making putts. While I wasn’t contending very much, I still had a lot of top 10 to 20 finishes. I was loving it. I’d show up, play, make some money and sometimes have a chance to win. Week after week after week, everything was in the positive.”
Unfortunately, success at Saujana did not open the floodgates to more firsts. In fact, quite the opposite happened.
“My game started to go about one month after the Malaysian Open,” says Kang.
He remembers playing a practice tournament at the Ballantines Championship in Korea on Jeju Island with Ted Oh, Unho Park and Lam Chih Bing (his regular practice group) when things started to go wrong.
“On the eighth hole I hit this drive and it went six yards right and I couldn’t figure out why that shot happened and ever since that happened my game started to slowly erode. So every day after that I was trying to fix it – it was like that story of the kid in Amsterdam who is trying to plug the dam wall by plugging the leaks day after day.”
He feels it was his fundamentals and technique that let him down.
“My fundamentals were not very solid. I had a band aid week after week to make the ball go straighter. I was thinking if the ball went straight, whatever I was doing, that’s correct. As opposed to looking at the proper technique, proper sequence, proper timing.
“Back then the information was not available, the technology wasn’t there, the data wasn’t there, to say the swing has to be sequenced this way, the hips have to move this way – it was more trial and error. Back then it was legendary stories of Vijay Singh.
“That was the mentality I had. I needed to see the ball on the driving range going straight, didn’t matter what my swing felt or looked like.
“I think in the end having the lack of knowledge caught up to me.”
Kang jokes that it was missing cuts that led to opportunities working in television commentary but in the ensuing years he still went on to become one of the most successful players on the Asian Tour with over US$2 million in career earnings. He currently sits in 22nd position on the Career Earnings list.
He first got into commentary at the Indonesian Open in 2014, where Dominique Boulet – a key member of Asian Tour Media broadcast team – suggested he turn his hand to some on course commentary.
“I had just missed another cut and it was a televised event and Dom came into the clubhouse and he sat down with us and asked me if I wanted to go on the golf course tomorrow and do on-course commentary. And I looked at him and I thought that might be fun. Let me give it a go,” says Kang.
“I still find it extremely difficult. It is really difficult. But it was especially in the beginning. I remember that first time in Indonesia in the morning when I arrived, I looked at the amount of people who were there and the amount of equipment. It was all foreign to me, I had never seen anything like it. And my first thought was I don’t want to be the one guy who messes this up for everybody. The first time is what like I was a soldier and I had never had any weapons training and they gave me a rifle and told me to go out there and do your thing.”
Kang was on our television screens in September working for FOX Sports covering the US Open.
“I still get very nervous before the show starts, especially the five minutes before the show starts, and probably about five to 10 minutes into it. But once you get through that you start to get into the flow of things and relax. When they say it’s going to go live it gets your nervous energy up,” he says.
“It is a lot of hard work. You do a lot more than show up and answer questions. You have to do your prep work. You have to make sure you are prepared and that you have something relevant and then on top of it you have to follow the structure of the programme.”
Kang turns 48 in November and fully intends to play the senior circuit in two years time.
He will be exempt on the European Seniors Tour (now called the Legends Tour) thanks to his win in Malaysia and says: “I am going to give that a go because through that Tour there is a very, very small window that can lead you onto the Champions Tour in the US. It is a very small window. But because of that I am going to give it a go.”
He has come a long way since growing up in Seoul before emigrating with his family to Hawaii when aged 10, in 1982 – which is when he started playing golf.
“Nobody taught us, we just went out with my Dad and Mum and played. They just thought it would be a good idea for the family to spend time at the weekend,” he says.
He picked up the game like a natural and by 1990 a couple of colleges offered him a golf scholarship but he settled on Oregon States University.
Said Kang: “I thought Oregon would be better for my golf career.”
An understatement if ever there was one and probably the most important ‘club’ selection of his career.
Thousand Oaks, California, October 20: Reigning Asian Development Tour (ADT) Order of Merit champion Naoki Sekito will head into this week’s ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP @ SHERWOOD in an upbeat mood, having put his game in good order for his PGA TOUR debut at the Sherwood Country Club.
The 23-year-old Japanese gained momentum from winning the Hiroden Open Golf tournament in Hiroshima last week, peaking just in time for the ZOZO Championship that is making a one-year move to the United States due to logistical issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sekito, who enjoyed two top-10 finishes in three starts on the Asian Tour earlier this season, will feature in the elite 78-man field headlined by defending champion Tiger Woods, Japanese star Hideki Matsuyama, Major champions Rory McIlroy and Collin Morikawa.
Asian Tour standouts Jazz Janewattananond and Gunn Charoenkul of Thailand, South African Shaun Norris, Australian Brad Kennedy as well as Mikumu Horikawa and Rikuya Hoshino of Japan will also tee up in the highly rated event that became the first ever PGA TOUR-sanctioned event in Japan last year.
“I have been lucky to continue playing in Japan during these unprecedented times. I have been playing a mixture of local events in Hiroshima, as well as events on the Japan Tour and the AbemaTV Tour.
“I was fortunate enough to win an event in July and then another event last week. I am very honoured and thankful to receive a sponsor’s invite to play the ZOZO Championship,” said Sekito, whose brother Yuji, also a professional golfer, will be on the bag for him this week.
After turning professional in December 2017, Sekito plied his trade on the ADT before claiming his first professional victory in Malaysia in 2019. He would secure one more victory and five other top-10s to clinch the 2019 ADT Order of Merit crown, becoming the first ever Japanese to accomplish the feat on the region’s secondary circuit.
“My sponsors held a gathering for me in my hometown before I flew here and about 70 to 80 people whom I have known from a young age attended. It was nice to see all of them and I took the opportunity to thank them for helping me throughout my career. I also met the Mayor of my hometown which was very cool.”
“I am really excited about this week. I look forward to playing in the same tournament as Tiger and hopefully I can bump into him at the range or in the clubhouse,” added Sekito, who hails from Fukuyama, a city in Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan.
Woods, who won his record-tying 82nd PGA TOUR title at last year’s ZOZO Championship, will be back to defend against a field full of stars at the 72-hole Jack Nicklaus-designed course, one of his favourite hunting grounds where he had won his Hero World Challenge five times.
Thongchai Jaidee talks about his time on the Asian Tour and European Tour, breaking down barriers and being a role model for young Thai golfers. My Time is a documentary series in partnership with Rolex going in-depth into Asian Tour players careers.
Thai legend Thongchai hopes to inspire next generation – “In the future I really want to see the young Thai and Asian players perform better than Thongchai Jaidee. I want them to see that I started from nothing but I managed to get where I am today. I want to be their role model.”
Read more about Thongchai’s illustrious career here.
Thai legend Thongchai Jaidee’s hole-in-one on the par-three 16th hole in the final round of the Carlsberg Malaysian Open, at Saujana Golf and Country Club, in 2004 is one of the greatest shots hit in the history of the Asian Tour.
And it helped launch the career of one of Asia’s greatest golfers.
Throwback to the time Thongchai Jaidee made an ace at the Malaysian Open 🇲🇾⛳#BandarMalaysiaOpen2020 #BMO2020 #whereitsAT
Posted by Asian Tour on Tuesday, March 3, 2020
The Thai star had already triumphed five times on the Asian Tour before his victory in Malaysia but as the event was jointly-sanctioned with the European Tour it thrust him into the global spotlight for the first time.
The two shots he gained with that ace helped him to secure a two-shot win over Australian Brad Kennedy and it opened the door for him to access the top-tier of tournaments in the game.
“I felt very proud when I won, every golfer needs to experience this,” said Thongchai, in a recent interview with Asian Tour Media.
“If you win it will change your life. It changed my life.”
It meant he became the first player from Thailand to win on the European Tour and the seventh Asian.
“It was the biggest moment in my life. After that tournament I started being recognized as an Asian Tour golfer instead of merely a Thai golfer. Now I had opportunities to play in Europe, not just Asia,” he adds.
“It changed my life and I had to improve myself. And I had to work harder than ever before because the competition was tougher.”
The following year he successfully defended his Malaysian Open title but it would be some time before he emulated his success in Asia, in Europe.
He admits the weather in Europe was one of the biggest obstacles he had to overcome and that it took him two or three years to adjust.
In fact, it was eight years after his first win in Malaysia before he tasted success in Europe – at the ISPS Handa Wales Open in 2012.
And it was he clearly a taste he enjoyed and savoured as he went on to win the Nordea Masters in Sweden in 2014, the Porsche European Open in Germany in 2015 and the Open de France in 2016.
Thongchai, who turned 50 last year, has always been quick to credit his military background (he was a paratrooper in the Thai Rangers) for his success in the game.
He said: “I used to be in the army and that helped me a lot. It taught me patience, discipline and strength. As a soldier I had to train very hard. So I took that mentality and translated it into my golf practice. It has made me a successful golfer.”
He also acknowledges it was not easy for him early on when he first started to think of making a living from the game.
“I never thought I would find a career in golf. At the beginning I was just a normal golfer. Back then playing professional golf was difficult,” he adds.
But his early concerns are now a very distant memory for a player who has claimed an unprecedented three Asian Tour Order of Merit titles, 13 Asian Tour victories and eight European Tour wins.
“I want to set an example for the next generation,” said Thongchai.
“In the future I really want to see the young Thai and Asian players perform better than Thongchai Jaidee. I want them to see that I started from nothing but I managed to get where I am today. I want to be their role model.”
The Asian Tour caught up with Anthony Kang recently to see how things have been for him since the world was turned on its head because of COVID-19. It proved to be a fascinating, funny and revealing conversation with the three-time Asian Tour winner – who is now part of the Tour’s highly-regarded broadcast commentary team. And because he had plenty to say we are telling the story over two parts – a front nine and a back nine of his career.
Anthony Kang has been at home in Portland, Oregon, since March – for reasons which probably don’t need too much explaining.
He had been working at the Bandar Malaysian Open in March and then headed to Thailand – where he got word that all countries were going to be in border lockdowns.
And rather than be in a foreign country with nothing to do he decided to get back home to Oregon, to help out with the family business: running a convenience store.
“Convenience stores are considered an essential business,” says Kang, “so it has not really affected us in terms of a daily routine, it is not like we have to stay at home and not move. We are doing the same things as we were doing two or three years ago.”
Remarkably, Kang has not played golf since missing the cut in the Sabah Masters in November last year and he also points out that there was a stretch last year when he did not play for eight months.
It is remarkable because the tall Korean American is only in his mid-40s and while he has one eye on the Seniors Tour, the other is looking back on a brilliant career on the Asian Tour which saw him win three times and earn over US$2 million in career earnings.
But the lack of playing time is not something that bothers the popular golfer, in fact it provides great insight to where he has been and where he is going.
“It has been progressing,” he says. “About three or four years ago I took a month off, came back and the next time was three months off, then eight months and now it has basically gone on about a year.”
He doesn’t mind it because he has experienced the hard grind of life on Tour and knows just how much hard work it takes to get to the top. He even admits that there was one point in the mid-2000s when he “fell out of love with the game because it started to feel like work” but thankfully he got over that.
He says that when he turned professional in 1996 his only motivation to play golf was to make a living and earn money.
“I thought if I put in the work here to get better at golf it returns to me in currency. And that is what drove me. It wasn’t about winning tournaments,” says Kang, who joined the Asian Tour the same year he turned professional.
And he admits that the early days on Tour were difficult.
“It was hard because like all struggling pros that doesn’t have a big pedigree coming out of the amateur game, like Tiger Woods, 95% of the guys out there are just grinding it out,” he says.
“In the beginning it was fun to travel the Tour because it was a new lifestyle, you get to travel to different places, experience different things and it was just fun but the bottom line was I had to penny pinch just like everybody else I was hanging out with.
“No matter how good a guy was, or how good his potential was, I have seen so many professional players that stop playing professional golf because they ran out of funds. Despite great talent, they don’t see a lucrative future ahead.”
But despite financial concerns those early years brought much joy.
“The first three years it was just fun to be out there, it didn’t really matter how much money I was spending. I wasn’t extravagant spending money but it was just fun. In my early 20s going out to Asia. I’m thinking I wanna stay out here.”
However, after three years of limited success in Asia he was having serious doubts about continuing on as Tour professional.
But it was at that point, mid-way through 1999, that it all started to change for him and one of the really great stories of Asian golf was born.
He says: “I had started the year with four missed cuts in five events and the one I made I think I finished 50th or 60th and I told myself this is not really working out how you thought it would work out, spending so much money and making nothing and if you do make the cut you are making 200 or 300 dollars profit and thinking is this really worth it?”
He was heading to play in the Casino Filipino Philippine Open at Manila Southwoods Golf and Country Club in May – which was going to be the final tournament before the summer stretch, from May until August, when no events were played on the Asian Tour.
“I had fully planned on taking on a job in the summer time working so I thought to myself, while heading into Manila, there is no need to put pressure on yourself, just go out and enjoy it, who knows maybe you will come back out [to Asia] or maybe you won’t. This could be the last one, so just go out, just have fun and don’t have a miserable time out there. And then it turned out weird.”
It was weird because from nowhere he won the tournament in very unique circumstances.
“I can’t pinpoint anything, besides fate and external forces,” he says.
“For my first two to three years I drove the ball well and I was a pretty mediocre long to mid-iron player but I was a decent wedge player and I could putt okay. And Manila Southwoods somehow fit into that category where if you drove the ball well then you were left with wedges and short irons, so you hit those well and make a couple of putts here and there and that’s kind of what happened.”
But there is also so much more to the story.
On the final day, he was at the hotel and went down to take the bus to the golf course but there was a notice saying the tee times were delayed two hours because of bad traffic going out to the golf course.
“And for the whole bus ride, for the life of me, I could not get rid of this song in my head which was ‘play that funky music white boy’ – it was in my head the whole ride. Why is it in my head I kept thinking?
“So we get to the golf course, and we start our round and we get to hole number six, the par four. Just over the wall on that hole there is a water park right outside and just before I hit my second shot (we were waiting for the green to clear) the song that starts blaring from the water park at that time was exactly the song that was in my head, ‘play that funky music white boy’!
“And at the moment I thought is this destiny? I was playing the second to the last group. I think I was two or three strokes off the lead. And I thought is this meant to be.”
He fired a brilliant 66 and won the tournament by one shot from South African James Kingston and Japan’s Kazuyoshi Yonekura.
But, whatever the circumstances, it was the big break he had been looking.
He explains: “I was planning to work and maybe even get away from the professional game after that week. But it allowed me to buy a membership at a golf course – the Badlands course in Las Vegas – instead of actually going to work. So I was able to practice all summer long, instead of working.”
So he practiced there and returned to the Asian Tour a few months later a more confident player and a golfer still only really at the start of an epic career.
To be continued…
By V.Krishnaswamy, @Swinging_Swamy
Malaysia’s Gavin Green remained inside top-10 after slipping seven places to tied-10th position following a second-round one-under-par 71 at the BMW PGA Championship in Wentworth on Friday.
India’s Shubhankar Sharma closed with a birdie to comfortably ensure weekend action in the third Rolex Series event of the European Tour’s 2020 Race to Dubai.
Sharma, who marked his season’s best finish yet with a tied-26th place finish at the Scottish Open last week, traded five birdies against three bogeys for a 70 to tie in 45th place.
Things however did not improve for Gaganjeet Bhullar, who missed his third cut in a row following a disappointing 77.
Green, former Asian Tour No. 1 like Sharma, was flawless on the first day with five birdies but stumbled on the second day with a triple bogey on the fourth and back-to-back bogeys on 13th and 14th.
Five-time European Tour winner Matthew Fitzpatrick (67-65) and reigning Open Champion Shane Lowry (67-65) both carded rounds of 7-under 65 each to share the halfway lead at 12-under.
Ryder Cup player Tyrrell Hatton, who already has two Rolex Series titles to his name, is one shot back after finishing his second round of 67 with three birdies in his final four holes. Denmark’s Joachim B Hansen and Frenchman Victor Perez are two shots further back on a nine under par while Race to Dubai leader Patrick Reed moved into the top ten on six under par courtesy of a round of 68.
David Howell, meanwhile, aced the par three 14th hole which secured a donation of £71,675 for the Official Tournament Charity Alzheimer’s Society from title sponsors BMW, as part of the European Tour’s Golf for Good initiative. The amount donated equals the value of the BMW 530e Touring which overlooks the tee this week.
For Lowry, it continues a remarkable love affair with Wentworth Club’s West Course, upon which no other player has carded more rounds of 67 or lower since 2011 – a feat which the Irishman has achieved seven times following his seven under par second round.
Japan’s Masahiro Kawamura trails by seven shots in tied-13th following a 69 while Thai star Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Korea’s Jeunghun Wang returned with matching 70s to settle for tied-30th and tied-35th places respectively.
The fact that Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee only started playing golf when he was 16 years old and he turned professional when aged 30 makes his rise to the top of the game remarkable.
During an unparalleled career, he has claimed three Asian Tour Order of Merit titles, won 13 times on the Asian Tour and lifted eight European Tour trophies.
And, he currently tops the Asian Tour career earnings list with US$5,744,337.
It makes you wonder what he would have achieved if he had turned professional a decade earlier, like most of his contemporaries.
The Thai star, however, was not wasting away his talent in his twenties. As is well documented, he served his country both in the military – as a paratrooper in the Rangers – and on the national golf team, playing in Asia’s top amateur events.
He was extremely successful in the amateur game – he won both the Thailand and Singapore Amateur Championships in 1998 as well as the Putra Cup – so it was with good reason that his country wanted him to turn professional later.
The region waited patiently and with eager anticipation for him to join the professional game, but when that day came he did not disappoint.
On this day 20 years ago, the Thai star tasted victory for the first time on the Asian Tour when he triumphed in the Kolon Korea Open at Seoul Country Club.
Some big names in the game have won Korea’s National Open – including Spain’s Sergio Garcia in 2002, American John Daly the following year and Vijay Singh from Fiji in 2007 – but very few have been as significant as Thongchai’s.
The victory opened the floodgates for many more wins and announced the arrival of a player who would go on to become one of Asia’s greatest golfers.
Later in his career he was to say: “I will always remember my first win in Korea as that was also the first in my career. More importantly, that win also gave me the confidence to go on and achieve bigger things. If I didn’t win that tournament, I would have lost confidence and I don’t think I would have won so many tournaments. Winning in Korea made me hungry to win more tournaments.”
He had been a professional almost two years before winning in the Land of Morning Calm but, in that time, his performances showed that clearly he was a player on course for greatness.
In January of 1999, in his first event as a professional on the Asian Tour, he finished in a tie for fifth at the London Myanmar Open.
And the results kept coming, highlighted by a second place finish in the Sabah Masters at the end of that year.
He was also making cut after cut and it would be two and half years before he failed to make it through to the weekend for the first time – at the Singapore Open in June of 2001.
In 2000, he notched a couple of top-five finishes in the run up to the Korea Open so it would have been an understatement to say he was on the cusp of a maiden victory.
And he had the added advantage of having Wanchai Meechai, a Tournament Director on the Asian Tour, caddie for him in Korea.
He started the prestigious tournament with a two-under-par 70, which was four shots behind first-round leader Arjun Atwal from India.
And a 69 on day two saw him sit two adrift of Atwal – who shared the lead with Korean Jongkoo Yoo.
Atwal was unable to maintain his fine form and slipped back with a 74 after the third round while it was South African Craig Kamps who took over at the helm, shooting a 67 – for a one shot advantage over Thongchai, who carded a 69.
Kamps was one of the in-form golfers on Tour at the time and a regular contender but Thongchai was undeterred and set about his business with vigour and confidence on Sunday.
He played flawless golf on the front nine, making a birdie and eight pars.
And he took a firm grip of the tournament on the inward half when, after parring holes 10 to 14, he made decisive birdies on 15 and 16.
He was helped in his quest for his first title by the fact that his closest challengers dropped shots over the closing holes.
A play-off looked very much on the cards but Kamps dropped a shot on 17, Yoo bogeyed 15 and 18, while even more dramatically Korean Wooksoon Kang triple-bogeyed 17.
Thongchai also made bogey on the final hole but he was still able to secure a one-shot victory over Kamps.
The Thai received a cheque for US$63,213 – by far the biggest pay day of his career up until that point – and the self-belief that he could win at the highest level of the game.
Another 16 Tour victories, and multiple awards and accolades, followed over the next two decades but none would have meant as much as that day when his game discovered real “Seoul”.
When American John Catlin hits a golf ball and turns to see where his shot is heading, there is a look of confidence and intensity about him that you don’t often see.
It is a distinctive and authoritative action which, of course, either sees the golf ball hit flush down the middle of the fairway or settle sweetly by the pin.
He has been hitting golf shots with purpose since turning professional in 2013 but last month the California-kid struck gold on the European Tour by winning two events in the space of three weeks: first a wire-to-wire win at the Estrella Damm N.A. Andalucia Masters in Spain – which was his maiden win in Europe – followed by victory at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open in Northern Ireland.
It has been one of the great success stories during a turbulent season rocked by public enemy number one, COVID-19.
And it has been an Asian Tour success story because it is on that circuit that he has been cultivating his game as a Tour professional over the past four years.
He first made a name for himself by winning on the Asian Development Tour (ADT) in 2016 at the Combiphar Golf Invitational in Indonesia.
Little did he know that would set in motion and be the start of an incredible run of first place finishes.
He won again on the ADT the following year at the PGM EurAsia Perak Championship in Malaysia, and the season after that exploded into life by winning three titles on the Asian Tour – the Asia Pacific Classic in China, the Sarawak Championship in Malaysia and the Yeangder Tournament Players Championship in Taiwan. That hat-trick led to him being voted the 2018 Players’ Player of the Year by his peers. He also won on the domestic circuit in Thailand that same year.
And, in 2019 he secured his fourth Asian Tour win at the Thailand Open.
So from Gunung Geulis Country Club, the scene of his first win on the ADT, to Galgorm Spa & Golf Resort, the host venue for the Irish Open, it has been a voyage of discovery – but one that has not been a complete surprise to him.
“You never know when it is going to happen but I always knew I was capable of it. You just keep pressing on. It has been a process of continually getting better and better and better, and now I am at where I am at, it is not going to stop. I am always going to try and improve,” said the 29-year-old last week.
“It has been nice to have achieved a lifelong goal of winning twice on a major Tour. I am looking forward to what the future has. I don’t know exactly all the doors it’s going to open as far as the end of the season and next year and what it is all going to look like. It is just nice to have achieved something that I worked really hard to get.”
Catlin was speaking just after missing the cut at the Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open – where he was on the side of the draw that played in the worst of the conditions.
“It happens sometimes and that is part of being a professional. Golf is the luck of the draw,” commented the American.
It was a blip on the radar for the American who said his social media has exploded since the two wins in Europe and there has been a lot more public interest.
He adds: “Everyone back home was ecstatic for me. I am looking forward to getting back home after Italy [the Italian Open, the third week of October] and being able to share it with them, I still have not been home. It will be nice to be face to face with them to be able to enjoy it more. Once I won, it was a pretty special moment but to win again was more special.”
Home for Catlin has also been Hua Hin in Thailand – where he based himself when playing on the Asian Tour. He was in lockdown there from March to May and once the golf courses closed he channeled his energy into cooking.
“Life is so simple in Hua Hin,” he says.
“There are good golf courses, there is good food, good people. I live right by Springfield Golf Club out there. It was a whole stress free life and I really, really enjoyed that especially with all the travel we do. It is nice to have a place to go where you can unwind and destress. I have not been back to Thailand since May. I don’t think I can go back until next year.”
Indeed, Asia has been central to his success in the game and, in particular, he feels his time playing on the Asian Tour was a key learning curve.
“Being away from the comforts of home, travelling by yourself, and getting to know new people, kind of figuring out how you tick, so to speak, apart from your family and your friends – I think that has given me a lot of confidence. Knowing I can handle that situation on my own. It gave me the confidence to play anywhere, Asia, Europe, America, it doesn’t really matter – it is just golf.”
And when he was in the heat of battle in Spain and Ireland he was able to draw on the invaluable experiences he gained when winning in Asia.
“It is something which the Asian Tour really helped me with as well. My first win in China came down to the wire. I won by one or two there, in Sarawak I had to make a putt to win by one. The Thailand Open I had to win in a playoff. Those experiences really helped me,” he says.
Catlin is understandably quick to thank his coach of seven years Noah Montgomerie – who also teaches Indian star Gaganjeet Bhullar – and his sponsors Srixon, Singha Corporation and Springfield for his incredible success.
He adds: “I really would not be here if it wasn’t for their support, they have been amazing. It is great to be a part of that family.”
He competes in the prestigious BMW PGA Championship this week where it will be no surprise to see him in contention on the famous and historic fairways of Wentworth Golf Club.
He was unflappable over the closing holes when winning twice last month – something he says is the result of dedication and determination.
“You know why you are there, that is the reason why you have practiced all those hours and the time I have spent in Thailand and with my coach in California. That is why you work so hard, to put yourself in that position. You trust your training and you trust the people who are in your corner. You give it your all and if it doesn’t work out then so be it. If it doesn’t work out it is not because of a lack of trying.”
By V.Krishnaswamy, @Swinging_Swamy
Shubhankar Sharma rounded off the week with a fine four-under 67 that saw him finish T-26 at the 2020 Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open. As Sharma admitted, it was especially good after a rough Saturday in North Berwick, Scotland.
The T-26 finish was also Sharma’s best in the nine starts since the European Tour re-started after the Tour was halted due to the pandemic Covid-19. His previous best finish was T-44 at Portugal Masters.
Aaron Rai of England, who has Indo-Kenyan origins, notched the biggest win of his career, as he beat World No. 14 Tommy Fleetwood in the first play-off hole. It was his first Rolex Series title which propelled him into top-100 on the Official World Golf Ranking.
Sharma, who had 70-67-76 on first three days, started on the tenth and birdied 12th, 13th, 17th and 18th and turned in with a fine 4-under first nine. A bogey on first was his sole blemish and he also birdied 7th for a 67.
Former Tour member Kalle Samooja came in tied-ninth while two-time Asian Tour winner Jeunghun Wang finished tied-14. 2017 Asian Tour Order of Merit champion Gavin Green settled for T-42nd.
Sharma, the 2018 Asian Tour No. 1, said, “I played very good today and was pleased with it especially after yesterday. I really want to come out and play well. I am quite happy about the week and I played well even on Saturday till the last five holes. Till then I was par for the first 12 holes before we hit the bad patch of weather.
“On Saturday it was very difficult, My gloves were wet and it was difficult to even hold the clubs but I would say it was a different kind of experience. So a good learning for the future.”
“As for playing a lot, I am feeling very fresh and happy that I am getting to play so many events. Sitting in India not being able to play was not easy. I still have some more events and I am looking forward to them after this week.”
As for the bubble and being part of it, for the first few weeks it seemed very different, but now it seems normal. I have my friend, Ainesh as my caddie and we spend the time together on and off the course. So, no stress on that account. I am looking forward to some of the other events now.”
Rai, whose first and only previous win was at the Hong Kong Open, carded 7-under 64 to set the target at 11-under par but Fleetwood holed a 20-foot putt on the last for a closing birdie to take it to extra holes at The Renaissance Club.
It was advantage Fleetwood off the tee as Rai found a bunker but the 25-year-old rescued his par and when Fleetwood three putted from just off the green, Rai had his second European Tour title.
Last week Rai finished second at last week at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open. The win moves him into the top five on the Race to Dubai Rankings.
Robert Rock missed out on a place in the play-off by one shot after a bogey on the last in a round of 70, with Australian Lucas Herbert and home favourite Marc Warren at nine under after rounds of 65 and 66.
Rai said, “It’s incredible. I played a lot in Scotland growing up, dreamed of playing in a European Tour event in Scotland. To be able to play in it was incredible a couple of years ago and to be able to go still further is an incredible feeling.
“I didn’t really see many leader boards all the way around. I knew we had to play well and knew we had to cope pushing forwards but luckily I had a good couple of breaks and also played very well, so I’m very pleased.
“It’s a dream come true. If I’m honest, to win any event on the European Tour is amazing. You have to play some world-class golf, but for it to be a Rolex Series with the class of field that was this week is deeply satisfying, and yeah, incredibly pleased.
By V.Krishnaswamy, @Swinging_Swamy
Anirban Lahiri would not have been happy leaving for home in Palm Beach at the end of the Sanderson Farms after playing his final round in three-under 69 and finishing a modest T-37 on Sunday in Jackson, Mississippi, US.
Lahiri, who earned his ticket to Sanderson with a Top-10 in Corales Dominican Republic, needed a Top-10 finish to get into the next event, the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas. He seemed to have a good chance at the halfway stage, before a bruising third round of five-over 77 ruined the chances.
Yet, Lahiri gave it his all with a 3-undet 69 that began with four birdies in first 10 holes, but again the putts did not fall after that and he also closed with a bogey on 18th for four birdies and one bogey in the final round. It saw him finish T-37 after T-36 at Safeway. and T-6 at Corales.
Sergio Garcia, the 2017 Masters champion, won his first PGA Tour title since the Augusta success, as he closed with a birdie on 18th for 5-under 67 and a total of 19-under to beat the 2015 Sanderson winner, Peter Malnati (63) by one shot. J.T. Poston (70) was third at 16 under.
On the finish this week, a forward-looking Lahiri described it as, “Some progress but a lot of work still to do.”
Talking about the next few weeks, Lahiri said,” The plan is to get back and work hard on the body and mind for next three weeks and start again at Bermuda. I will then probably need to get into Top-10 to get to the Houston Open the following week.” The re-scheduled Masters for 2020 will follow the Houston Open.
On his thoughts for the day, Lahiri said, “The mindset was to reset today. I had a small error in my putting setup yesterday (third round) that I fixed latter on Saturday evening. So the effort was to go really low but had too many putts today that did everything but go in. Sometimes they don’t drop and this was one of those weeks. I have a nice window ahead of me to reflect and clean up on the areas that need work and come back out all guns blazing.”
Lahiri after being 8-under for 36 holes fell to 3-under on third day. In the final round Lahiri found about a third of the fairways and hit just over 50 per cent of the greens in regulation with 10 out of 18. But what him hurt was that he once again missed a few putts in the nine to 15 feet range especially over three of the last four holes.
Lahiri birdied the Par-5 third with a 101-yard approach to nine feet and added a second one on the par-5 fifth. It raised visions of a good finish as he birdied eighth and turned in 3-under. A 28-foot conversion for a fourth birdie on Par-3 10th made It even better, but then the birdies ran out. He also closed with a bogey on 18th, where he two-putted from just over eight feet after chipping well from the rough.
Chinese Taipei’s C.T. Pan finished as the leading Asian. Pan shot a final round 68 to finish T12, his best finish since a T11 at the Mayakoba Golf Classic in November, 2019. His four-day total of 13-under was also his lowest since the Mayakoba event. Pan missed out on a top-10 after ending his day with a bogey on 18. Sungjae Im (66) finished T-28 and Si Woo Kim (67) was T-37.
A week after falling out of the top 50 in the world for the first time since 2011, Garcia won for the 11th time on the PGA TOUR and the 31st time worldwide, which will bring him back into Top-50.
Garcia has now won PGA TOUR wins in three different decades (2000s, 2010s, 2020s) and he also won in Europe in 1999.
It was a great week for Garcia, who came into this event off missed cuts at Safeway Open and the U.S. Open. Making his debut at Sanderson Farms, Garcia, 40, joined leader in the clubhouse Peter Malnati at 18-under with an eagle at the par-5 14th hole after a 5-wood from 260 yards to 3 feet, 5 inches before securing victory with birdie at the final hole.
The 11th PGA Tour win fetches Garcia 500 FedExCup points and invitations to the Sentry Tournament of Champions, 2021 Masters Tournament, THE PLAYERS Championship and PGA Championship.