Wanchai's rule | Asian Tour

Wanchai’s rule

Published on April 13, 2021

After over a quarter of a century officiating on the Asian Tour, Thailand’s Wanchai Meechai has chosen to stepdown from his role as Senior Tournament Director, and referee on an event-by-event basis. We talked to him about his journey with the Asian Tour, and also got the back story about how his daughter Wichanee Meechai – currently playing on the LPGA Tour – started playing the game.

If you have been to an Asian Tour event, at some point over the past couple of decades, the chances are that you will have seen Wanchai Meechai on the course, keeping a watchful eye over proceedings.

“I have travelled to almost every event since starting all those years ago, and I’ve technically been with the Asian Tour for 26 years now,” said the 67-year-old, Senior Tournament Director on the Asian Tour, from his home in Bangkok this month, after announcing he plans to wind down his career with the Tour.

He uses the word “technically” because his introduction to the Tour was a gradual process.

CHON BURI-THAILAND- Asian Tour referee Wanchai Meechai of Thailand pictured at the Singha Thailand Champions Tour 2021 event at the Burapha Golf & Resort, Chon Buri, Thailand. Picture by Paul Lakatos/Asian Tour.

Rules Rookie

The popular Thai was a Tour professional for five years – he turned professional in 1987 – before his friend Somchai Hiranpruek, an official on the local Thai Tour, refined his knowledge of the rules and also taught him how to set up a golf course for a professional tournament.

“After that I decided to become a rules official,” said Wanchai.

His big break came in 1995 when the Thailand Golf Association sent him to assist the Tournament Director, David Parkin, at the Asian PGA International – an Asian Tour event played at Sriracha Golf Club, near Pattaya.

“That was when I first met David Parkin, my first international teacher. He taught me how to set up the course, mark the course and, basically, how to do everything. It was very hands-on then. He made me learn by doing,” adds Wanchai.

He also started to work at Thai PGA events and his education and exposure to life on Tour was further enhanced when Khun Santi Bhirombhakdi, President of Singha Corporation – the long-standing main supporter of golf in Thailand – asked him to be a translator for the country’s top players such as: Boonchu Ruangkit, Thaworn Wiratchant, Chawalit Plaphol, Prayad Marksaeng, and Thammanoon Sriroj.

He says: “They could not speak English then, so I travelled with them and helped them with translation and assisted with whatever they needed, for a while.”

Thongchai Jaidee of Thailand assisted by his caddy, Wanchai Meechai of Thailand, during a practice round at the Scotscraig Golf Club, Fife, Scotland. Jaidee will pre-qualify on Sunday July 16th for The Open Championship at St Andrews to be held in July 2000. Picture by Paul Lakatos/Asian Tour.

It was not long before the Asian Tour regularly engaged his services as a rules official – something that Singha helped him with by assisting with expenses.

“David Parkin came to realise that I was a good assistant to him, so he hired me to work with him at the Asian Tour. I was working with him on an event basis and it was only in 2004 that I officially joined the Tour as a permanent staff. I am the first Thai professional to join the Asian Tour as a member of staff,” said Wanchai.

It was a landmark achievement for the popular Thai and, indeed, his country.

Globetrotting for golf

He says there have been many highlights along the way, not least the chance to travel and work at the biggest tournaments in the game.

“I think the most memorable moments in my career were my experiences at Augusta. I was very lucky to be there for The Masters Tournament three times. I felt very proud to be representing the Asian Tour there,” he said.

He also went to The Open on four occasions, The US Open once, and the PGA Championship at Wentworth six times.

LYTHAM ST ANNES, ENGLAND – JULY 21: Asian Tour rules official Wanchai Meechai of Thailand on the 1st tee pictured on day three of the 141st Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St. Annes on July 21, 2012 in Lytham St Annes, England. (Photo by Paul Lakatos/Asian Tour/Asian Tour via Getty Images)

“I had the chance to go to Switzerland as well. I think I made seven to eight trips there for the Omega European Masters. It’s really beautiful and I must say it’s my favourite amongst the places I have travelled to so far. Even though I didn’t venture out of the course!” he adds.

“I also got to see snow for the first time in Arizona, when we were there for a WGC event. The weatherman suddenly said it might snow. No one was prepared for it. I remember I was on the course without any winter gear on! The buggy I was on did not have roof as well. It was so cold. It’s funny now thinking back about it.”

DUBLIN, OH – OCTOBER 06: (L-R) Wanchai Meechai and Brendan de Jonge of the International Team
on the first hole during the Final Round Singles Matches of The Presidents Cup at the Muirfield Village Golf Club on October 6, 2013 in Dublin, Ohio. (Photo by Stan Badz/PGA TOUR)

Proud Father

While life as an Asian Tour official was all consuming, there was also another very big part of his life that was to also make a significant impression on planet golf: his daughter Wichanee.

“I took both my daughters (Wannisa and Wichanee) to practice at the Army course when they were about eight to nine years-old. I bought a set of clubs for both of them and made them practice but they were not very interested. They would hit two to three balls and then went to eat. I eventually gave up after a while as I thought they were not interested. I told them it’s not going to work out and asked them to go back to their studies,” said Wanchai.

CARLSBAD, CA – MARCH 23: Wichanee Meechai of Thailand plays during the practice round for the KIA Classic at the Aviara Golf Club on March 23, 2021 in Carlsbad, California. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

Game over it appeared, but not quite.

He adds: “They were fine with it. My elder daughter (Wannisa) was very good with her studies. My younger one (Wichanee) was good as well but the elder one was better. To my surprise, when Wichanee was around 14 years old, she came to me and said she wanted to play golf.”

He told her that if she wanted to play golf, she must follow his instructions to the T … and the tee.

Wanchai with his daughters Wichanee (left) and Wanissa (right) (Courtesy of Wanchai Meechai)

Wanchai wasted no time in capitalizing on his daughter’s sudden interest in the game and took her out from a normal school and sent her to a special college where she could study two days a week and play golf and practice the other days. And while he coached her in the beginning he soon felt it best for her to see a “proper coach”.

“I said: ‘Don’t tell me you’re not good. If you’re not good, go and practice’. This is what I always told her. She had very good self-discipline. I never had to wake her up to practice or exercise. She knows what she has to do. Every morning, she would go to exercise and practice by herself,” commented Wanchai.

Wichanee also trained at Thongchai Jaidee’s academy and shortly after turning professional, when she was 19 years old, she won her first event on the Thai LPGA, and later claimed titles in China, the Philippines and Chinese Taipei.

And of course since 2017, she has been a regular on the LPGA Tour, gradually making her mark there with three top-10 finishes to date and with more expected from the 28-year-old.

CHON BURI-THAILAND- L-R Thongchai Jaidee, Boonchu Ruangkit and Asian Tour referee Wanchai Meechai of Thailand pictured at the Singha Thailand Champions Tour 2021 event at the Burapha Golf & Resort, Chon Buri, Thailand. Picture by Paul Lakatos/Asian Tour.

Super Senior

While Wichanee continues to work hard on building her career, her father has plans for the next chapter of his life.

“I’m going into a semi-retirement now but actually, I am still fit. I went for a heart bypass last year but I’ve recovered and I’m well now. I will still work for the Asian Tour on an event-by-event basis. I am just no longer a permanent staff with the Tour,” said Wanchai.

He also wants to spend time helping to promote women’s golf in Thailand as he says although the country has so many great players, he feels there could be many more.

And having watched so much golf overs the years, and seen his daughter hit the big-time, he still has that itch, the competitive one, to get out and play.

CHON BURI-THAILAND- Asian Tour referee Wanchai Meechai of Thailand pictured at the Singha Thailand Champions Tour 2021 event at the Burapha Golf & Resort, Chon Buri, Thailand. Picture by Paul Lakatos/Asian Tour.

“I went to play on the Thai Champions Tour. They have a super senior category. It was great to be back playing competitively. I really enjoyed it. I get to see all my old friends and get to talk to them.

“Just last week, I met Boonchu, Thongchai, Thaworn, Prayad at the event. I know I can’t beat them but it was fun. I am looking forward to the next one.”

CHON BURI-THAILAND- L-R – Thaworn Wiratchant, Thongchai Jaidee, Asian Tour referee Wanchai Meechai. Prayad Marksaeng and Boonchu Ruangkit of Thailand pictured at the Singha Thailand Champions Tour 2021 event at the Burapha Golf & Resort, Chon Buri, Thailand. Picture by Paul Lakatos/Asian Tour.