With an unprecedented 18 Asian Tour wins and over 30 professional titles in total under his belt, Thai legend Thaworn Wiratchant is still continuously building on his legacy.
Just last week, at age of 54, he impressively notched another victory on the Thailand Champions Tour after winning by two shots over fellow veteran Prayad Marksaeng, in Pattaya.
And, last July, the master of the unorthodox swing even held off the young guns on home soil to win the event hosted by Thongchai Jaidee, for his eighth title on the All Thailand Golf Tour.
Last week marked the 16th anniversary of arguably the biggest victory of his career at the Indonesia Open – his only triumph in an event joint sanctioned by the Asia and European Tours – Thaworn shares the secret to his long-term success and how he feels about the mark he is leaving in Asian golf, following his 34 years in professional golf.
1) How have you been during the pandemic? Where were you and did you play golf?
During the pandemic, I renovated my house and I built another golf practice room because the driving range was closed during lockdown. I have a golf simulator, a putting area and a fitness corner set up in that room.
2) You won Thongchai’s event last year. What is the secret to your ability to keep winning as you get older? Special diet, special workout?
What I did 10-15 years ago, I still do the same today. I may have some regression, but I keep working out and practicing the same. When I was young, I wanted to be successful, so discipline and consistency in practicing is very important for me. This is a career. If we are more diligent than others, we will play better than anyone else. It’s a lot more about skill than luck.
3) At the start of your career on the Asian Tour, did you ever think you would win a record 18 titles?
I did not think about that. The first time I joined the Asian Tour, I could not even make the cut. I never thought I would come this far. However, there were not too many players in the Asian Tour at that time, so I could keep the card. Although I was a two-time Order of Merit winner, I could not get many sponsors. It was fortunate that I had a main sponsor and especially Thai golfers have been supported long-term by Boonrawd Brewery (Singha Corporation). The players are looked after by Singha even after they are done with their playing careers. Although I have not got income from other sponsors, I collected money from my performances. Diligence is the key to my success.
4) What do you consider your greatest win?
I won my first Asian Tour title at the 1996 Sabah Masters. I remember it was the day Somdet Phra Srinagarindra Boromrajajonani (Thai Royal Grandmother) passed away. I heard about her passing just before I teed off, so I prayed to her that I want to win. I wanted to do something proud for my country. I wanted to bring the trophy back to Thailand.
After I won my first title, I just felt like I could win more. But then I waited a long time to win again, which was in 2001. At that time, I knew my skill was not good enough and I did not practice enough. There were lots of great golfers out there but I knew my time would come. So I just kept practicing to make myself a better player.
5) Do you think it was your amazing short game that helped you win so many times or was it more your mental strength?
Not at all, it depends on practicing. If you want to have a good short game, it requires practicing and imagination. Imagine a golf ball being hit the right distance, height, and with the correct amount of spin. But I cannot advise you because you have to find out yourself.
6) Who was your golfing idol growing up?
When I was a national player, my idol was Tom Watson. I also like Jack Niklaus. They are legends. In Thailand, my idol is Boonchu Ruangkit who was my golf mentor as well. Not many people know that he taught me when I worked at the Royal Army Golf Course. At that time, he was a national player, he practiced at the Royal Army Golf Course. When he took a break from practicing, he would give me advice as well. When he turned pro, I would caddy for him whenever he came to play golf at the Royal Army Golf Course.
7) What are your plans and objectives in the future?
I still want to keep playing. I also look forward to playing in Japan and Europe again on the Senior Tours.
8) When do you think you will stop playing and retire?
I have not thought about this yet. I still enjoy playing. Although playing with young players is hard and it’s tiring to try to make cut, I still enjoy playing every time. Also, there are senior events to play so I am still having a lot of fun on the course.
9) Will you host an event yourself like Boonchu and Thongchai?
Many people have asked me about this but I will have to discuss with my main sponsor, Boonrawd Brewery first. Many people have shown their support that I can host my own event. But to me, it’s a fifty-fifty chance. It’s not easy organizing a tournament.
10) Who are the young Thai players coming through now who you think are the best?
There are many young talent players such as Gunn Charoenkul, Danthai Boonma, Pavit Tangkamolprasert and Sadom Kaewkanjana. It’s difficult to say who is the best. They all have similar skills and have their own way of practising.
Most players on the Asian Tour think that Thai golfers are strong. There are always three to four Thais in every top-10. I admit that Thai golfers are very good and fortunate because we have many tournaments to play here in Thailand. These tournaments allow Thai players to sharpen their skills and gain playing experience. However, you will have to stay disciplined and ensure consistency in practicing. If you are diligent, you will go a long way.
Two-time Asian Tour winner Justin Harding returned to the winner’s circle at the weekend when he triumphed in the Magical Kenya Open presented by Johnnie Walker, on the European Tour.
The South African beat American Kurt Kitayama, also an Asian Tour champion, by two shots at Karen Country Club.
Harding had started the final day two ahead and was never caught, going on to card a bogey-free 66 to finish at 21 under.
Playing partner Kitayama briefly cut Harding’s advantage to one as he carded two eagles in a 66 of his own, but Harding stayed in control and earned a sixth worldwide victory in three years.
Harding hit the headlines when he won twice on the Asian Tour in July of 2018, at the Bank BRI Indonesia Open and the Royal Cup in Thailand. The following season he also claimed his first title on the European Tour at the Qatar Masters, but struggled with his game after that.
“I went through such a good run in 2019 when it felt like I never actually played badly,” said the 35 year old. “Getting over the line in Qatar was, it sounds a bit strange now, but it was almost like something that was going to happen.
“I’ve been through a dip in form in terms of mixed results and it was nice to get over the line this time around. Winning isn’t everything but I think being in the winner’s circle again means a little more to me than I actually thought it did.
“Ultimately, I just hope that I can kick on and it would be nice if I could go on a run like I did in 2018/2019 but who knows? Maybe I do it, maybe I don’t. We’ve just got to keep giving ourselves some chances.”
Harding and Kitayama went head-to-head in the final group at the 2018 Afrasia Bank Mauritius Open – with the American prevailing on that occasion, in an event jointly-sanctioned by Europe and Asia.
“Kurt’s an unbelievable competitor,” he said. “I got him back for Mauritius.”
It was indeed an excellent week for Asian Tour members: Australian Scott Hend – a 10-time winner on the Asian Tour – was tied for second after the third round and eventually finished equal 16th with Indian Gaganjeet Bhullar.
In-form Bhullar finished joint runner-up in the previous week’s Qatar Masters.
Thailand’s rising star Jazz Janewattananond had a day to remember at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard on Saturday.
The 25-year-old, who is playing this week on a tournament’s exemption, sank his career first hole-in-one on the PGA TOUR at the par-three 14th hole at Bay Hill Club and Lodge en route to a three-under 69 which moved him into tied seventh place, four shots behind leader Lee Westwood who leads on 11-under-par 205.
A day after he carded a superb 65 to improve from an opening 75, Jazz made three other birdies against two bogeys on a day he missed 50 percent of fairways and greens in regulation. The one shot that counted most was a beautifully flighted six iron which took four little bounces on the green before rolling into the hole, much to the delighted a small crowd gathered around the green.
“Good call, good club,” said a beaming Jazz, whose effort meant that Mastercard would donate US$200,000 to the Arnold & Winnie Palmer Foundation.
“I was a member here for four months during COVID last year and I didn’t have one hole-in-one. So it’s good to have in a tournament and it’s very special to have Mastercard donating US$200,000 to Arnie’s Foundation.
“I was in between a hard 7 and a soft 6 (iron). And my caddie was just nudging me into the soft 6 and the rest is history. The round was very choppy at the end and choppy at the start as well. The middle was pretty good. Overall, pretty happy as it was tough conditions.”
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) March 6, 2021
His scrambling saved him on a few occasions which now gives him a shot an unlikely win after how his week started with his 3-over par round. He made a 26-foot birdie on 16, rolled in a putt of 22 feet to save par on 17 and got up and down from the bunker four times to outscore playing partner Max Homa, who won The Genesis Invitational recently, by three shots.
“I think we might get a little bit more sun tomorrow. The golf course might play a bit different so we can go at more pins than today. But yeah, the same plan is really try to hit the fairway, try to hit the green. It’s great because I know Roy (Saunders, VP of Bay Hill) personally and he’s the one who give me the invite to play here, so it’s really good to be able to give back to that,” said Jazz.
He spent nearly six months in the U.S. last year after the coronavirus pandemic shut down sports leagues and international borders around the world, and stayed over an extended period with two-time PGA TOUR winner Daniel Chopra, who lives in Orlando and is a Bay Hill member. He is staying with Chopra and family again this week.
“I mean, there’s home course knowledge that helps in the fact here for sure. I must have played over a hundred rounds in shoot-outs like they have every day with the members and we kind of had fun and it’s great. Just learning the culture here as well,” said Jazz.
“I’m really fortunate because when the PLAYERS got cancelled after round 1 last year, Thailand’s border was closed so I didn’t have anywhere to go. I called my friend Daniel, whom I’m staying with this week as well, asking if I could stay with him for a few days and it turned into a few months. So it’s a great story.”
It would be a greater story if Jazz can pull off a victory on Sunday as no Thai player has won on the PGA TOUR.
Thailand’s Jazz Janewattananond fired the day’s low score with a superb seven-under-par 65 on Friday, which was a 10 shot improvement from his opening round at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard.
The reigning Asian Tour Order of Merit champion took advantage of his local course knowledge as he is Bay Hill member after staying with two-time PGA TOUR winner, Daniel Chopra for nearly four months during the COVID-19 pandemic last year. He enters the third round in tied 11th place, five off the lead on four-under-par 140 total.
Jazz was delighted to bounce back to life in the morning wave. The 25-year-old burst out of the gate with five birdies on the back nine, starting at the par-four 11th hole, where he rolled in a 15-foot putt to get his day started. He added three more birdies on Nos. 14 through 16, the first of which he poured in from 33 feet, before adding one final birdie at the 18th prior to making the turn.
Though he dropped back to four-under with a bogey at the par-3 second, Jazz closed with three birdies over his final five holes. He connected on lengthy putts from 17 and 16 feet at Nos. five and six, respectively, before tallying his eighth and final birdie of the day at the last, when he stuck his approach shot inside 10 feet.
“Yesterday, none of the putts dropped but I guess I kept it all for today,” said Jazz. “Everything I seemed to do was better, like I hit my irons a little better and putt a little better which added to a good round. Last year, I was here for like three to four months. I’m a member here which helps as it’s like home course advantage. I’ve played on this course more than any other place in my life. Usually when I’m home I don’t really play that much.
“After THE PLAYERS Championship got cancelled (last year), I literally didn’t have anywhere to go because Thailand was shut. I was in Jacksonville and I called Daniel and said ‘hey can I stay here for a few days’ and I ended up staying with his family for three to four months. He caddied for me a couple of times on TOUR too.”
By advancing to the weekend at Bay Hill, Jazz has now made the cut in three of four starts during the 2020-21 PGA TOUR season. He tied for 60th at the ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP @ SHERWOOD and tied for 51st at The Masters Tournament. His best finish on TOUR remains a tie for 14th, which he accomplished twice in 2019 the PGA Championship and World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions.
For the third consecutive year, Korean standout Sungjae Im will enter the weekend rounds inside the top 10 on the leaderboard. He finished in the top-three in his first two appearances at Bay Hill Club & Lodge and hopes to be third-time lucky by winning the prestigious PGA TOUR tournament.
Im, who is ranked 17th in the world, posted a second round 70 on Friday and sits at five-under 139 in tied seventh place through 36 holes. He trails leader Corey Conners by four, while Martin Laird sits in solo second at eight-under. Viktor Hovland, Rory McIlroy and Lanto Griffin are a further stroke back in share of third place.
Chasing a second TOUR win, Im made the turn at even par — a 22-foot birdie putt at the par-3 second was offset with a bogey at the par-5 sixth— before moving into red numbers with a birdie at the 10th. Though a double bogey at the 13th moved him to 1-over for the day, the 22-year-old quickly rallied at the ensuing par-3, pouring in a 30-foot birdie putt to get back to even-par. He ended his day on a high note at the par-5 16th, which he eagled after hitting his 190-yard approach shot inside 10 feet. He eagled the 16th on Thursday as well.
“I hit my driver well and found a lot of fairways. It helped me with my second shots. The rough is difficult here, so keeping the ball on the fairway is key. I have made some good scores over the past two days due to my driving,” said Im, who missed only one fairway during his second round.
A return to Bay Hill, home to the late golf legend Arnold Palmer, is always special. As the 2019 Rookie of the Year and recipient of the Arnold Palmer Award, the Korean star enjoyed the privilege of a tour of Palmer’s office last year. “I know Arnold Palmer is a legend in golf and a great player in the era,” Im said previously. “I think I have something connected to Arnold Palmer.”
With his putter finding its range where he ranks sixth in Strokes Gained: Putting over two rounds, Im hopes his flatstick will continue to produce the birdies and eagles in hope of a victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, which is one of three elevated tournaments on the PGA TOUR. “I think my form is almost the same as the last couple of weeks. If I can make some putts at the critical moments, I would be good enough to compete for the top,” he said.
Sentosa Golf Club, home of the Asian Tour, is widely respected as one of the world’s greatest golf clubs with two pristine conditioned golf courses, showcasing breath-taking views of the Singapore Straits and metropolitan Singapore.
Since reopening in December, the Club’s world-class championship course, The Serapong, has attracted positive headlines from across the globe. As the host venue for the SMBC Singapore Open, The Serapong is one of the world’s best golf courses, having been named ‘Singapore’s Best Golf Course’ for the third consecutive year at the World Golf Awards in 2020, as well as being ranked 59th in Golf Digest’s ‘Top 100 World’s Greatest Golf Courses 2020-21’.
The man tasked with taking one of golf’s most iconic courses and making it even better, right in the midst of a global pandemic, was the Club’s own General Manager and Director of Agronomy, Andrew Johnston. With three months having passed since the course reopened, we sat down with him to discuss how The Serapong is shaping up and what we can expect from this prestigious course in the future….
Since The Serapong reopened at the end of last year, what has the feedback been like?
The feedback so far from our members and guests regarding the renovations has been extremely positive. Our aim was always to provide them with the best possible playing experience, whilst also setting the course up to deliver an exciting challenge for golfers of all abilities.
Our members and guests have become used to experiencing the highest standards of playing conditions 365 days of the year on The Serapong, which is what we pride ourselves on, and this was definitely something we factored in during the renovations. We are continuously looking to improve the quality of the experience at Sentosa Golf Club and hope that the positive feedback from everyone who has played The Serapong continues to circulate.
Because of COVID-19, we know all the staff at the club had to help out with the renovations. What was that experience like? You must be very proud.
With the renovations on The Serapong commencing just as Singapore was about to go into the ‘Circuit Breaker’, there were many challenges faced. The Club had to be nimble and remain aligned with the changing restrictions throughout the pandemic. The rules of operation were fast changing in the early stages from wearing masks, testing protocols and limited staff allowed on site, to quarantining and working from home.
So, a major challenge that we faced during the renovations was attempting to keep up with the tight construction deadlines, while still meeting all the Safe Management Measures (SMM) in Singapore. We were also only allowed a certain number of staff on-site at the Club on any given day. Our contractor had 150 labourers and operators involved with the project, but just 25 days before the works started 140 of them were quarantined for over four months, meaning our staff had to step in and support and go the extra mile to get the job done.
I am very proud of everyone associated with the Club and the role they played throughout the entirety of the renovations. Despite facing a number of difficult circumstances, we all take great pride in how the renovations have turned out.
We have managed to take one of the world’s top 100 golf courses and make it even better than before, as well as future-proofing it for many years to come. However, we would not have been able to complete such a project without the help of all our staff. It took a huge amount of effort and dedication from everyone associated with SGC, whatever department they worked in, including front of house staff, F&B staff, committee members, and many more, to get the renovations over the line.
Their motivation to make The Serapong even better never changed and a ‘win-at-all-costs’ mentality meant our staff continued to strive for the same levels of perfection that would normally have been expected of them on a day-to-day basis prior to lockdown. All whilst adhering to and meeting the SMM required of them.
When Sentosa hosts its next tournament on The Serapong, how do you think the players will feel about the changes? Is the course even harder?
We believe the players would say the newly renovated Serapong still provides a fair, but challenging test. The Serapong has always offered one of the most formidable challenges in Asia and by changing small aspects of the layout, golfers are now required to think hard about their strategy and find new ways of overcoming the obstacles they face during their round.
One of the showstopping features added to the course is the new bunkering that has given The Serapong a fresh new look with creative serrated edging. They look deeper, larger, and truly capture a golfer’s imagination when they are lining up their next shot.
Another fundamental change to the course layout involves the works undertaken on the 6th hole. We have realigned the tee complexes and moved them to the right of the cart path, therefore changing the visual alignment of the hole and making golfers look further down towards the water on the right at the edge of the rock wall.
Also, a large new waste bunker has been added, as well as 60 palm trees, which means players will have to change their strategy if they opt to hit away from the water and avoid the sand, as their line into the green will now be affected. We have also added a new false front to the 6th green, named ‘The Dragon’s Tongue’, that requires golfers to add a touch of precision to their game in order to walk away with at least a well-earned par.
The Serapong receives rave reviews from players every year. In your view what makes the course so special?
The Serapong has always been special because it provides breath-taking views wherever you are on the course. This is especially true for ‘The Dragon’s Tail’ (holes 4-7) and the personality of the course has only been enhanced by the renovations.
We realigned the tee complex on the 4th hole and by doing so have opened up the visual alignment of how the serpentine shoreline and walls lie in front of a player’s vision and now takes them on a continuous journey all the way up to the green, therefore adding to The Serapong’s storyline. This small adjustment enhances the coastal theme and plays a big part over the next four holes in how the course, and Sentosa’s story, plays out.
The 5th Hole continues to showcase spectacular views of metropolitan Singapore, whilst Hole 6 now aligns with the shore, offering views of Pulau Brani and delivering a reoccurring visual experience. It is not every day that players will be able to experience such an incredible setting and I always think players find this stretch pretty unique. The Serapong is a one-of-a-kind journey that is proud to welcome golfers from around the world to take on its challenge.
In layman’s terms, which were the bits of clever technology used for the renovations?
Good question! Throughout the renovations there were a number of specific pieces of technology used to help enhance the course. All the tee boxes were re-lasered to reinstate a tabletop flat finish and return them to their original size, as well as updating the grass to allow them to be maintained at super low mowing height of 3mm.
The greens were also improved through a drill-and-fill process that saw machines inject a pre-made sand mix solution into them in order to rebuild and enhance the soil structure condition. With an enhanced air ratio, it will see the putting surfaces stand the test of time and the tropical climate in Singapore for the next decade.
Last question. Which is your favourite Singapore Open and why?
Well, I certainly have quite a few and there are so many great memories over the years. One of my fondest is watching Angel Cabrera down 18 in the final round. He hit a booming drive with a bit of fade off the water (his caddie thought it was going in the water, but Angel knew it had cleared). Then hit a 6-iron from 200 metres out, pin high, for an easy two putt birdie and to close the tournament out by one from Vijay Singh. A 6-iron from that distance these days might not seem that much, but back then it was something special from that range. That week in 2007 had everything. Angel played majestic golf all week, including a 63 in the second round and we have to also remember his driver head came off during his first round and he still managed to shoot level par!
I will also never forget Adam Scott’s three-peat. There’s just something about Singapore and Sentosa Golf Club that just clicked with Adam. He’s given us a lot of great memories here too.
*The Sentosa Golf Club is part of the Asian Tour Destinations, an exclusive network of world-class golfing properties around the region that offer a comprehensive range of facilities and services to club members and guests, as well as to Asian Tour players and officials.