Sentosa, Singapore: May 20: To paraphrase the timeless classic from the Beatles, “Will golf still need me, when I am 64?”
When it comes to Boonchu Ruangkit of Thailand, who celebrated his 64th birthday earlier this month, the answer is emphatically ‘yes’.
Kiradech Aphibarnrat, the only Thai to have secured a full card for the PGA Tour, was among those thanking Boonchu for his guidance over the years on the occasion of his birthday.
On Facebook, Kiradech posted a picture of himself and Boonchu and wished the veteran good luck and good health in the future.
Also, he said that Asian golf was missing a role model like Boonchu on tour.
Make no mistake about it, Boonchu – a proven winner with a lovely, languid swing and an easy manner – was the eminence grise for players of many nationalities, not just Thais.
At tournaments, golfers would gather round him on the practice range, putting green and clubhouse such is his charisma, ability and knowledge of the game and of the vagaries of life.
And, typical of the man, he was always willing to lend an ear, impart words of wisdom and, even, offer a tip or two on putting and chipping, the cornerstones of his game.
Boonchu will always be linked with the Asian Tour, not least because he struck the opening drive when the new player-centric circuit was launched at the Thailand Open in 2004.
Not someone who does things by half, he went on to win his national Open for the second time, an achievement that gives him great joy to this day.
For the record, Boonchu hit the historic first shot at 7.00 am on Thursday, January 22, 2004 with playing partners Thongchai Jaidee, the Thai whose star was just starting to rise internationally, and gifted Korean Kang Wook-soon, looking on at the Royal Thai Air Force Golf Club.
Kang, keen to win the tournament to make up for missing his US PGA Tour card by a stroke at qualifying school the previous month, upstaged Boonchu in the first round by shooting a 63, five shots better than the Thai.
He maintained the lead over the next two rounds and held a one-stroke advantage over fellow Korean Kim Jong-duck heading into the Sunday showdown with Boonchu trailing by three.
That changed quickly with Boonchu opening the final round brightly with birdies at the first two holes and made up for a bogey at the fourth hole with further birdies at the fifth, seventh and 10th holes.
Meanwhile, Kang carded three bogeys and a double bogey in the first nine holes to fall out of contention.
After missing a short par putt at the 17th, Boonchu birdied the last to secure victory by two shots over Kim and Thailand’s Prayad Marksaeng.
“I took the lead at the 10th hole and after that I played cautiously. When I hit my approach shot at the 18th, I knew I had won – it was a great feeling,” said Boonchu, who also won the Thailand Open in 1992, at the time.
“This is the greatest moment of my career. I hit the first drive in 1995 to launch the (former) Tour and hit the first drive this week. It is special to win your home Open and now I have won it twice.”
While Boonchu collected the plaudits and a cheque for US$48,450, a lesser light also recorded an amazing feat that is unlikely to be repeated in world golf.
Chen Chung-cheng of Chinese Taipei shot two aces…at the same hole.
Sadly, he walked away with nothing to show for the incredible double.
The 27-year-old aced the 187-yard fourth hole during the first round and repeated the feat in the third round.
A condominium and a car were on offer at two other par-three holes at the Royal Thai Air Force club but there was no prize for holing in one at the fourth
“No car keys, again,” laughed Chen. “I cannot believe I holed in one at the same hole. When I hit my four iron, I thought it was going to be close but I did not see it go in the hole.
“Tomorrow I will be trying hard to hole-in-one at the eighth (where the condominium was on offer).”
Korean Jun Chul-yoo had better luck than Chen. He was rewarded with a car for his ace at the 13th hole during the second round.
With Boonchu’s remarkable win, a double ace and a feast of low scoring, the tone was set for the new Asian Tour and the circuit has continued to produce the magic that makes top level golf so watchable.
Fast forward to more recent times and Boonchu is still having an impact on Asian golf.
He has hosted the Boonchu Ruangkit Championship on the Asian Development Tour since 2015, the most recent of which in January this year attracted a strong field, including Thai stars Thongchai Jaidee and Prayad Marksaeng, and was won by Boonchu’s countryman, the talented Pavit Tangkamolprasert.