V Krishnaswamy in Saudi Arabia
Jeddah, January 31: South Africa’s Justin Harding, who had a sensational final round that helped him snatch a top-10 at the Dubai Desert Classic last Sunday will be looking at another fine finish as he tees up at the star-studded Saudi International powered by SBIA held at the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club on the European Tour on Thursday.
Harding leads the fairly large contingent of Asian Tour members, who will be up against the world’s top-three Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson, besides Dubai winner, Bryson DeChambeau, the world number five.
The field also includes last two Masters champions, Sergio Garcia (2017) and Patrick Reed (2018), four-time Major winner, Ernie Els, an Asian Tour honorary member, and other Major winners like Henrik Stenson, winner of the 2016 Open, and Trevor Immelman, the 2008 Masters champion.
Els, who captains the International team at the Presidents Cup this year will also be looking on the fine form that he showed in Dubai, while finishing tied-12th. Els was tied-third after three rounds, before he fell following a 71 on Sunday.
Indian duo, Shubhankar Sharma, the reigning Asian Tour number one and winner of the Joburg Open and Maybank Championship, and Gaganjeet Bhullar, the 2018 Fiji International winner are also in the field looking at going better than tied-29th and tied-38th respectively.
Other Asian Tour members in the field include Scott Hend, Wang Jeunghun, Kurt Kitayama, winner of the AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open, David Lipsky, winner of the Alfred Dunhill Championships this season and Wade Ormsby are also in the field at the sparkling Royal Greens, which has the spectacular Red Sea as the backdrop.
Sharma, who got used to playing on new golf courses almost the whole of 2018, is quite excited to tee up in the company of the top-three in the world. As excited with this new big-ticket event was Gaganjeet Bhullar, who is now armed with a European Tour card after his win in Fiji last year.
An additional element this week is Rayhan Thomas, who is ranked Number 16 among world amateurs, and has been given one of the invitations.
Even as the world’s best jostle for the top spot this week, the Indian duo of Sharma and Bhullar will be looking to get closer to the top-100 as the first immediate step.
Sharma said, “Playing in the same events as the world’s best is what we all want and it is indeed rare to get a chance outside of the Majors or the WGCs. So, I really relish the prospect of being here this week.”
Sharma, whose next assignment after this will be the WGC-Mexico, where he was tied-ninth in 2018, added, “Last year I played on new courses most of the time because I had never played most events in Europe or the US. This year I will get to play many of them again. But for now, a big purse event is welcome, as I want to do well and get my rankings up again.”
He added, “Last week was alright, but I could have done way better, so hopefully I can make up this week.”
Meanwhile Bhullar was summoning up all the positive feel, as he said: “The 16-17-18 remind me of the course in Fiji, where I won the Fiji International. I am feeling good and am all set to go and this year I am going to play as much as I can and in as many places.”
Bhullar, who has been playing well but not been scoring on account of some unlucky breaks and missed putts, could also have some advantage on the greens which are somewhat slowed to those compared usually seen on the European Tour, including in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
Sentosa, Singapore, January 30 : The Junior Golf Tour of Asia is proud to announce that the Asian Tour has officially given its endorsement to the JGTA.
“The Asian Tour has been at the forefront of the development of the professional golf since its inception and we are proud to align the JGTA alongside the Asian Tour” said Kyi Hla Han, JGTA Tour Founding Director.
“The JGTA provides a pathway for Asian Juniors to pursue their dreams of competing collegiately and moving on to become professional golfers and World Champions, and for many of these players, the next step after college is working towards competing on the Asian Tour, and other major tours around the world.”
The JGTA is the sanctioning body in Asia for American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) Performance Based Entry (PBE) Status, and represents the series of tournaments throughout the region, where players can build their AJGA PBE Status through their final standing on the Junior Order of Merit, the Official Ranking of the JGTA. The AJGA is the gold standard of junior golf and it is the focal point for college coaches recruiting efforts.
The endorsement of the JGTA from the Asian Tour will further the two organizations’ similar missions of growing the game and developing golf in Asia. As an endorser of the JGTA, the Asian Tour believes in the mission of the JGTA and directly plays a role in supporting junior golfers dedicated to the pursuit of an AJGA, University, and professional golf career.
Cho Minn Thant, Chief Operating Officer, Asian Tour said: “The Asian Tour is pleased to support the initiatives of JGTA. We share a common vision of unearthing promising talents and we look forward to be their platform where they will continue to develop their game as their careers progresses.”
For more information about the Junior Golf Tour of Asia and its upcoming event, the JGTA Hong Kong Junior Classic at Clearwater Bay, please visit JGTA.ORG
By V. Krishnaswamy in Dubai
January 28: Even as Bryson DeChambeau wrote a new chapter in the history of Omega Dubai Desert Classic, there was Justin Harding scripting his own amazing story.
The 32-year-old Harding, who won twice in two starts on the Asian Tour last season, carded a nine-under-par 63 to finish in tied-seventh at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic held at Emirates Golf Club on Sunday.
The South African ended his campaign on a 15-under-par 273 total, nine shots behind DeChambeau who shot a 64 to earn his first career overseas win and his fourth win in nine starts.
The scientifically inclined DeChambeau, who confesses to be inspired by Albert Einstein, won on a record total of 264, beating Li Haotong’s 23-under-par achieved last year, and a seven-shot margin over Matt Wallace of England (68), who finished in second place on his own.
If 2018 saw DeChambeau win four times, Harding has also had four (two each in Africa and Asia), and Wallace had three, all on the European Tour, including the Hero Indian Open in 2018.
Flawless with seven birdies and an eagle, Harding equalled the week’s best card of 63 and rose to tied-seventh and earn a spot into next week’s Saudi International. Harding’s final round 63 included two hits into two different palm trees on the 18th. Yet he managed to par it with a brilliant fourth shot over the lake guarding the final green to within a foot of the pin.
Harding, who made his Dubai debut on an invitation, was ranked around 718th at the start of 2018 and he could be inside top-80 for a career-best when the new list comes out on Monday.
Harding rued his two bogeys on 10th and 12th in the third round. During the week he had just four bogeys – three of them came on Saturday. “That (third round) should have been better,” he said. Harding had birdied 10th on the remaining three days and on Sunday he birdied both. “That felt like four shots getting away.”
DeChambeau, who a day earlier had said he was happy with the score but not the game, smiled and said, “Today I was happy with my game. I executed a lot of great shots.”
Even as his superb win created a huge buzz, there was also talk of the time he often took for his shots, both on fairways and the greens and it could soon be a topic of discussion with the game’s organisers wanting it to become faster and stipulating just 40 seconds for each shot.
The American was off the block with three birdies in a row but had no more on the front stretch. He started the back nine with an eagle-birdie and dropped a bogey on 12th, his first in 21 holes. Towards the end he again shifted gears to birdie 13th, 14th and 17th.
Defending champion Li Haotong’s final challenge did not quite happen and neither did it come from any of DeChambeau’s other challengers, including vintage Ernie Els, who started the day at tied-third and slipped to tied-13th with a 71.
India’s Shubhankar Sharma made a smart move upwards with the week’s best card of 68 that saw him finish tied-29th, a morale booster after last week’s missed cut in Abu Dhabi. Saving the par on sixth, where he bogeyed each of the first three days and getting birdies on 10th and 18th all four days brought a smile on Sharma’s face.
“Still I would say my game was not all that great this week. I did some work on driving, but putts did not fall on some of the days, so all parts did not work at the same time. Hopefully it is coming together soon,” said Sharma.
Compatriot Gaganjeet Bhullar could not get his putter going but he ensured he did not drop more than one shot against four birdies, including one at the last.
“I wouldn’t say I am happy, but I not very worried either because the game is fine. The putts didn’t drop this week. Still mid-20s last week and in 30s this week means something should happen soon and it was not a write-off,” said Bhullar.
Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee (69) ended in 47th place on 280, while Australia’s Scott Hend (70) finished in tied-48th.
Other notable names include Australia’s Wade Ormsby (72) and American and Kurt Kitayama (74), who finished tied-64th and tied-71st respectively.
By V. Krishnaswamy in Dubai
Dubai, Jan 26: Shubhankar Sharma alternated between birdies and bogeys for the better part of the day, while Gaganjeet Bhullar kept looking good despite not scoring as he should have at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.
Still, Bhullar carded three-under-par 69 to move 18 places up and Sharma had a 70 and gained eight places as both were tied-38th at six-under-par each.
Bryson DeChambeau of the United States
Bryson DeChambeau, called the “Mad Scientist” in golf, has all his irons and wedges cut to the same length of 37.5 inches to suit his own theories on the game. On Saturday, he converted a round that seemed to be going the wrong way following back-to-back bogeys on seventh and eighth at which point he was one-over for the day. He holed five birdies in the last 10 holes for a card of four-under 68 and took sole lead at 16-under-par.
Defending champion Li Haotong attempting to become only the second back-to-back winner in Desert Classic after Scotsman Stephen Gallacher did in 2014, shot a third 67 to get to 15-under-par after a birdie-birdie finish.
They were followed by the 49-year-old veteran Ernie Els, who did not get frustrated despite missing numerous birdie putts and finishing two-under-par 70 with two birdies and no bogeys. At 13-under he was tied for third with the 2018 Hero Indian Open winner, Matt Wallace, who shot 69 after 70-64 on first two days.
Apart from Els, an Asian Tour Honorary Member and International Ambassador, who stayed in contention to extend his record of three Desert Classic titles to four, Sharma and Bhullar were the best placed Asian Tour members.
Tied with Sharma and Bhullar was South African Justin Harding (72), while Thongchai Jaidee (74), who as tied-second on the first day, dropped to tied-51st, as did Scott Hend (75). Australian Wade Ormsby also slipped dramatically from tied-14th to tied-61st as he shot 77 to drop to three-under-par 219. Kurt Kitayama (75) also fell 20 placed to tied-67th.
Sharma and Bhullar leave a lot of shots out there
Though the two Indians shot their third straight sub-par round of the week, both felt they left a lot out there. For Sharma, his driving not was not on the spot on Friday and on Saturday, he made a couple of avoidable mistakes and twice went into the water, once from the middle of the way.
In the case of Bhullar, he kept feeling he was playing fine but not scoring. Lip outs and the ball stopping on the edge have been his story.
Sharma birdied the third but it was neutralized by a bogey on sixth and it was the third successive day he had dropped a shot on the hole. Then, back-to-birdies on seventh and eighth were undone by the double bogey on ninth, where the ball slid back into the water. The trend continued on the back nine as he birdied 10th and bogeyed 11th and the birdied 12th only to bogey 13th. Fortunately, he birdied the 15th and the 18th for a 70.
Sharma also rued giving away the bogey on 13th, where also the ball rolled back from the green into the water. “It was a frustrating day. Going into the water and giving away the hard-earned birdies was really painful,” admitted Sharma.
For the second straight day, Bhullar bogeyed the first but got it back on second. He warily treaded past the rest of the front nine before earning birdies on 10th and 12th, but dropped a shot on 13th only to get back a birdie on15th. He should have had a birdie on the drive-able par-four 17th, but did not though he closed with a birdie on 18th.
“I should be scoring better on the par-fives and lately I have done on par-threes, too. So the two together should fetch me decent totals, but they have not,” said Bhullar. “Hopefully another day tomorrow and then next week in Saudi, I need to get in something good.”
Els continues to surprise all
The surprise of the week continued as the veteran of 16 Desert Classics, Els. Even if he does not win the event, a top-10 would get him his 300th top-10 finish in nearly 800 professional starts.
The leaderboard was tightly bunched behind Els and Wallace at 12-under-par, as four players, including Lucas Herbert, who courted disaster and a two-shot penalty on par-five third after he was deemed to have improved his lie by removing impediments behind the ball. It meant a double bogey, but he fought back with four straight birdies from the 10th. He, however, had two more bogeys on 16th and 18th in his 72.
Also at 12-under-par was Spaniard Alvaro Quiros, a past winner here, but now ranked 418th in the world. He finished with a double bogey, hitting his second shot into the water. He had six other birdies and three bogeys.
Three more players were at 11-under-par and seven others were 10-under-par, including 2017 European Tour number one Tommy Fleetwood (68) and 2017 Masters champion Sergio Garcia (70).
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, January 26: Malaysia’s representation in this year’s Maybank Championship appears to be as good as it has ever been in a big international tournament.
As always, a strong line up of the top Malaysian golfers are fielded and is something all Malaysians can look forward to in the US$3 million Championship scheduled for March 21 to 24 at Saujana Golf & Country Club.
A 13-strong Malaysian contingent was named today, spearheaded by the country’s top-ranked Gavin Green, at a Maybank Championship Media Golf Day at Saujana today. Aside from Gavin Green, two other local pros namely Ben Leong and Nicholas Fung are in the line-up by virtue of their efforts on the Asian Tour.
The other home stars selected are Professional Golf of Malaysia (PGM) Tour Player of the Year Shahriffuddin Ariffin, Danny Chia, Amir Nazrin, Sukree Othman, Kim Leun Kwang, Arie Irawan, Ramasamy Nachimuthu, Wilson Choo, Kenneth De Silva, and Kemarol Baharin, who all qualified through the local rankings.
Speaking at the event, Datuk R Karunakaran, Director of Maybank said, “The Maybank Championship is a unique tournament, truly one ‘Where the Best Meet’. While it features the top 60 from each of the European and Asian Tours, and 15 from the world’s top 150, we have never neglected our commitment to support and develop local players. Hence, we have set aside places for the top 10 Malaysian golfers – so that they too can have the exposure of playing in a world class event.”
For Green, the Maybank Championship will present a good opportunity to make impact not only on his endeavours on the Europe Tour, but also the domestic game. A lot will also be expected from Leong and Fung – both winners on the Asian Tour. The former played alongside Green in the World Cup in Melbourne, Australia, while Fung is generally regarded as among the most consistent of Malaysia’s players on the regional circuit.
Shahriffuddin, a multiple winner on the PGM Tour and a player who secured his first Asian Development Tour crown at the co-sanctioned Labuan Championship last August – en route to retaining his Order of Merit title – is another one to watch at Saujana.
The players in general at Saujana today welcomed the improved conditions of the Palm layout, also known as the Cobra course. This follows a refurbishment of the greens, which according to John Eu, Chief Executive Officer of GlobalOne, the promoters of the event, should reach at least 10.5 feet on the Stimpmeter.
“We could maybe get it up to 11.5 during tournament week,” he said. “This is mainly because the most significant improvements made in the refurbishment centred on the 18 putting greens. What took place here was that the seed bed of all the greens was replaced with cleaner and slightly coarser washed river sand. This was vitally important as it improves the porosity of the seedbed which allows the greens to better accommodate our heavy annual rainfall.
“Other improvements included providing the greens with better morning sunlight and air circulation through selective pruning and the removal of trees and undergrowth, and selective sub-soil drainage on fairways and other closely mowed areas,” added Eu.
Added Datuk Karunakaran, “Our Maybank Championship events in the past three years have given us a new and unexpected winner each year. While we do not know if it will happen again this year, what I can assure you is that the 2019 tournament will continue to be as thrilling, or even more so – not only based on the players who have confirmed, and the activities planned, but also because the Palm Course is in great shape after its refurbishment. Saujana is well known for being a challenging course, so the revamped greens will surely add to the excitement.”
The Maybank Championship, which has become Malaysia’s premier golf tournament, is set to announce a few other star attractions soon.
By V. Krishnaswamy
Dubai, January 25: Scott Hend, the 2016 Asian Tour Order of Merit winner, and Wade Ormsby, the 2017 Hong Kong Open winner, were lying tied-14th as the best Asian Tour players at the midway stage of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.
Yet, even better than either was the Asian Tour Honorary Member and International Ambassador, the 49-year-old Ernie Els, who is also due to lead the International Team at the President’s Cup this year. Hend (66-70) and Ormsby (67-69) are nine-under-par 136, while Els is two shots ahead.
Hend, who was two-under-par on the front nine, frustratingly had nine straight pars on the easier back nine, which has three par-fives.
Els shot a brilliant seven-under-par 65 with seven birdies, an eagle and two bogeys to go with his first round 68. At 11-under-par, Els, with 2011 Desert Classic winner, Spain’s Alvaro Quiros is tied-third.
Els and Quiros trail co-leaders, 23-year-old Desert Classic debutant Lucas Herbert of Australia (69-63) and Bryson DeChambeau (66-66), whose only previous appearance in Dubai was in 2016 as an amateur ranked 530th in the world.
Also putting themselves in line for a crack at the title, were Matt Wallace, winner of three titles including the Hero Indian Open in 2018, and the defending Dubai Desert Classic champion, Li Haotong of China. They were 10-under-par and tied-fifth, two shots behind co-leaders Herbert and DeChambeau.
Thongchai Jaidee (66-71) slipped from overnight tied-second to tied-26th while Justin Harding (70-68), who has four wins, two of them on Asian Tour in 2018, was tied-29th.
The reigning Asia number one, Shubhankar Sharma (71-69) grinded, it out despite wayward driving off the tee as his iron play and putting rescued him. He made the cut at four-under-par, in tied-47th. Sharing 47th place was Kurt Kitayama, winner of the 2018 AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open, with rounds of 71 and 69.
Sharma’s colleague, Gaganjeet Bhullar, also ensured weekend action, as he birdied the 17th to get to three-under-par, which was the cut line for the week. He was tied-57th.
The prominent Asian Tour members missing the cut included Phachara Khwongwatmai (70-74), Gavin Green (71-74), David Lipsky (74-73), S.S.P. Chawrasia (72-75) and Jeunghun Wang (72-77).
The evergreen Els, who is the only man to win this event three times in 1994, 2002 and 2005, turns 50 in October this year. He has wonthe Desert Classic three times, finished runner-up three times and been third another three times. He has nine top-threes in 16 previous appearances.
A top-10 here would be his 300th Top-10 in over 800 starts as a pro.
“I don’t keep stats,” he said with a smile.
Els added: “I like this place, as you know. I’ve had some really great times here. I’m swinging well, my body feels well. Just, you know, going on the memory bank, I guess. Playing with Colin (Montgomerie) and José Maria Olazabal was also fun. We’ve done a lot in the game, and we had a good couple of chats, and I found my form. You’ve got to love it.” Monty and Olazabal missed the cut.
Sharma’s iron play keeps him around
Sharma, who missed the cut in Dubai last year, was all over the place off the tee but time and again his fine iron play got him out of trouble. After the sixth, till when he made two great par saves, his putting also found the rhythm.
He said: “I hit my irons well, got my putter going after the sixth and it was really good on the back nine, but I just don’t know what happened with my driving. I was all over the course. I found very few fairways.”
He added: “At the range, I was hitting good, so I am going to see what to do with my coach, Mr Jesse Grewal, who is here this week.”
Bhullar said: “I have been playing well, but am not getting the scores that this play should. I missed so many narrowly, lipping out, stopping short by a roll like on 18th, and just sliding past to a foot or so. Still, I am happy to be around for the weekend.”
Sharma started with a birdie and then did not find any more on the tougher front nine. He did drop a shot on sixth, which took a shot from him on the first day, too. On the back nine, he birdied 10th, 12th, 16th and rolled in a 15-16 footer on 18th for a fourth birdie. He added: “On the 11th, I really hit my only bad shot with the iron and gave away a bogey.”
Herbert catches the eye
The 23-year-old Australian Lucas Herbert (69-63), who had five top-fives as a rookie last year to rise to 78th in the world, took a share of the lead with American Bryson DeChambeau (66-66), the world number five and the highest-ranked player in the field this week.
Herbert blazed through a round of 63 while DeChambeau, who had four wins in 2018, shot 66 despite three bogeys. Both are 12-under and trailing them by one are three-time Desert Classic winner, Ernie Els, who was five-under for Par-5s, and the 2011 winner, Spaniard Alvaro Quiros (69-64), who closed with four birdies in last four holes.
Herbert, who attracted a lot of attention last year when he played a practice round with Tiger Woods before The Open at Carnoustie, confirmed his talent last year by finishing in the top-10 seven times, five of which were top-fives.
DeChambeau who analyses everything he does, said: “Man, you know, I thought after yesterday getting it around not making a bogey was awesome, but today even more impressive with three bogeys on the card, still shooting 6-under-par. I was happy about that. Unfortunately, again, just didn’t have the right sensations and proprioception over shots. I just felt uncomfortable, unfortunately, on a lot of them, and consequently just am not ball- striking my best. But I’m not complaining one bit. There’s no complaining here for sure, so I’m happy.”
And, by the way, proprioception, is sometimes described as ‘sixth sense’. It is the sense of the relative position of one’s own parts of the body and strength of effort being employed in movement. A scientist and a golfer rolled into one, that’s Bryson DeChambeau.
V Krishnaswamy in Dubai
Dubai, January 25: Two of Asian Tour’s biggest stars, Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee and Australia’s Scott Hend, were among the eight players who were one shot behind the leader, England’s Matthew Fitzpatrick at the end of the first round at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic on Thursday.
For the most part of the day, the leaders stood at six-under 66 till Fitzpatrick blazed through the back nine with six birdies, four of them on his last four holes for a 65 and lead by one at the Majlis Course at Emirates Golf Club.
On an extremely low scoring day no less than 74 players were under-par, and another 15 players shot par.
Thongchai, playing his 19th Desert Classic in a row, had his best-ever start at the event with a 66. It could have been even better but for the double bogey on his closing hole.
The all-time money leader on Asian Tour and the only player to win the Tour’s Order of Merit three times (2001, 2004 and 2009), seemed to be finding birdies in pairs as he gained shots on second and third, sixth and seventh and 10th and 11th. He added more on 13th and 17th before being hit by the double bogey.
Thongchai, who hits 50 in November, has won 13 times on the Asian Tour and eight times on the European Tour. His last win came on the European Tour in France in 2016.
The Thai veteran chose to shoot his best-ever in the Dubai Classic on the same day as the Asian Tour announcing the fourth staging of his Thongchai Jaidee Foundation 2019 event on the Asian Development Tour (ADT).
Thongchai admitted, “I didn’t play well last year. Putting was not great, but this week I think I am more confident. My putting is getting better.”
He added, “The feeling is good. Today I had a lot of good putts, and I think we hit only nine greens today but didn’t find many fairways. I did make a lot of good up-and-downs as well.
“(About the double bogey) We planned on hitting a good lay-up, but the wind just was not strong enough. I tried to hit it easy and unfortunately went into the water hazard.”
The Thai’s best finish in Dubai has been third in 2010 and his previous best start here was 67, which he has shot four times, including twice in 2004, when he was fourth. He has missed the cut here only three times and has three Top-10s.
Hend equaled his best score of 66 in his opening round, which he shot in the second round last year. He birdied his first and third but gave the gains back with bogeys on fifth and sixth. Thereafter he could make no mistake. He birdied the seventh and was on fire on back with five more birdies.
Among other Asian Tour players, Australia’s Wade Ormsby (67) was tied-10th after being six-under through 16 holes, while Asian Tour’s honorary member and 2019 Presidents Cup captain, Ernie Els was 68 and tied-19th.
South Africa’s Justin Harding and Thailand’s Phachara Khongwatmai were tied-44th after matching 70s while Malaysia’s Gavin Green along with Indian duo Gaganjeet Bhullar and Shubhankar Sharma all posted 71 to sit on tied-60th.
Also on tied-60th was American Kurt Kitayama (71), who had three birdies and a double bogey. S.S.P. Chawrasia of India (72), three-over at one stage, fought back to get to even par with three birdies in last five holes.
Korea’s Jeunghun Wang carded 72 to take tied-75th and American David Lipsky struggled to a 74.
Sentosa, Singapore, January 24: Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat has competed on American soil in some 30-plus tournaments previously. The next one will give him the most pride and joy.
When the 29-year-old arrives for the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines Golf Club in San Diego from January 24 to 27, it will mark his first PGA TOUR start in the new calendar year as Thailand’s first golfer to hold a PGA TOUR card.
“I’m very excited as I’ll be playing in the tournament through my PGA TOUR status,” said Kiradech.
“I’m not in the field through the world ranking … I earned my TOUR card last year and I’m looking forward to my first year on the PGA TOUR. It feels like a new world to me,” added the Thai.
The burly Thai enjoyed a stellar campaign last season, with top-five finishes at the World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship and World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play helping him create a small slice of golf history as he earned his TOUR card through the non-member category. He also finished tied-13th at the Memorial Tournament, tied-15th at the U.S. Open and tied-30th at THE PLAYERS Championship.
Kiradech couldn’t have planned his first PGA TOUR start for 2019 any better. As an aspiring amateur golfer, he finished tied-third, tied-12th and tied-eighth in the Junior World Golf Championships at Torrey Pines in the 15-17 age-group from 2005 to 2007 respectively. He also won the 13-14 age-group twice in 2003-2004 at Cottonwood at Rancho San Diego Golf Club.
“It’ll be good to play in Torrey Pines again. It’s like the place where I started my amateur golf career. To go back and play there will be fun. If I can finish well at the Farmers Insurance Open, that would be a good start and help build my momentum and confidence going into the new year,” said Kiradech.
“I’ve got good memories as a kid playing in the San Diego area. I competed against guys like Tony Finau, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day and now I’m going back there to play against the same players. I didn’t imagine this happening when I was growing up,” added Kiradech.
Kiradech and his wife, Tunyatorn, have found a home in Orlando, which is a short drive from fellow Thai LPGA Tour stars Ariya and Moriya Jutanugarn. He will practice at Lake Nona Golf and Country Club, which many PGA TOUR stars are based at, including his close friend Byeonghun An of Korea, Ian Poulter of England and Sweden’s Henrik Stenson.
“We are five minutes away from the sisters. I think it’s never easy to leave home (Thailand), you’ve got to deal with the different culture, different kind of food and being near them will be better for my game and family. My wife will help cook Thai food for sure and we’ll hang out with the sisters when we’re all in Orlando,” said Kiradech, who holds four European Tour wins and was the 2013 Asian Tour Order of Merit champion.
A tied-fourth finish at the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions in Shanghai and tied-33rd at the CIMB Classic in Malaysia, which formed part of the early 2018-19 PGA TOUR Season last October, has given Kiradech a head-start in the FedExCup points race where he currently sits in 58th position.
“It was nice to have a good start and there won’t be so much pressure as I’ve got some FedExCup points already. I hope to keep my card for a second season which should then make things a bit easier. There are a lot of great players on the PGA TOUR and I need to be consistent, scramble better and make more birdies to compete against the world-class players,” said the 38th ranked golfer in the world.
“The biggest goal is to win on the PGA TOUR this year. Win for myself, for my family and my country. It won’t be easy, but I have worked hard over the last few years and I’ve given myself some chances. I’m not far off from winning,” added the Thai, who has also placed top priority to fight his way into the International Team to face the United States in the Presidents Cup at The Royal Melbourne Golf Club, Australia in December.
The only downside about setting up a new base in America for Kiradech is the fact that he has to leave behind his fleet of superfast cars in Bangkok. In recent years, driving has become a form of relaxation for the fun-loving Thai whenever he is not on Tour.
“I’m going to miss my cars,” he said. “I worked hard for those cars, I’m like a kid when it comes to cars. In my first year in Orlando, I’ll get a SUV (Sports Utility Vehicle). If I extend my card for another season, or if I do well this year, then maybe I will reward myself with a supercar in the U.S.”
Kiradech learned the game when he was eight by following his businessman father, Panupong, to the driving range. Panupong wanted Kiradech to learn the sport so that his son would avoid choosing the “wrong path.”
In quick time, Kiradech, who previously went by the name Anujit Hirunratanakorn, got hooked to the sport and spent countless of hours at the practice range. A young Kiradech, who enjoyed watching the cartoon “Popeye”, then began flexing his muscles and won the Junior World Golf Championships 13-14 boys’ age-group in 2003 and 2004 in San Diego.
He represented his country in regional and international competitions before turning professional in 2008, at age 18. He won his first professional tournament on the Thai Tour in 2009, first Asian Tour title in 2011 and first European Tour-sanctioned tournament in 2013, the year he also became the Asian Tour Order of Merit champion.
It was also the same year where he made his first big splash on the PGA TOUR, finishing tied-third in the CIMB Classic in Malaysia which is his best finish yet on TOUR. Five years later, and now entrenched firmly in the world’s top-50 ranking, Kiradech, who has been referred to as Asia’s John Daly due to his burly physique and grip it-and-rip it style of play, is now living his dream of competing full time on the PGA TOUR.
“It is a dream come true and I hope I can make my country proud with my achievements,” said Kiradech.
By V Krishnaswamy in Dubai
Dubai, January 24: India’s Shubhankar Sharma, who was Asian Tour number one and the toast of Indian golf in 2018, will hope to turn his fortunes after last week’s missed cut, when he tees up at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic held at the Emirates Golf Club.
Another Indian who will be looking at continuing to build on his 2018 successes will be Gaganjeet Bhullar, who returns to Dubai after a gap of five years. This time he does after a breakthrough win on the European Tour at the Fiji International last year. He will also be looking forward to improving on his creditable tied-27th finish last week in Abu Dhabi, a Rolex Series event on the European Tour.
There are more than a dozen Asian Tour players in the field. The prominent ones include Justin Harding of South Africa, who had four wins last year, of which two were on the Asian Tour. There is also Matt Wallace of England, whose three worldwide wins included the Hero Indian Open, and he was also second at the DP World Tour Championships, the season-ending event in Europe.
Asian Tour members like Shaun Norris of South Africa, who won once in Japan and was also second on the Japan Tour’s Order of Merit, American Kurt Kitayama, who had a breakthrough win in Mauritius, and David Lipsky, who won the Alfred Dunhill Championships in South Africa are in the fray.
Besides the above, there are also Gavin Green of Malaysia, Thai duo Phachara Khongwatmai and Thongchai Jaidee, Australia’s Scott Hend and Korea’s Jeunghun Wang, and Ernie Els, the Captain of the International Team for 2019 Presidents Cup and who is an honorary member of the Tour.
Bhullar, who was once ranked 85th in the world is also looking at getting back into the top-100 zone, and currently the second best Indian at 141, while Sharma is ranked 123rd.
Bhullar’s only appearance in Dubai was in 2014, when he missed the cut and this could be his chance to rectify that. “The game is good and I am looking forward to it. Last week was alright and let’s see how it goes this week,” said Bhullar.
“It was nice to win my maiden European Tour event in Fiji last year. I need to build on it now,” added Bhullar.
Last week Bhullar played all four rounds at par or better with 70-70-69-72 for a seven-under-par 281 total but Sharma however missed the cut.
Sharma, who played his first Dubai Desert Classic last year said: “The course is playing much longer this time. Last year it was dry and the ball was running a lot. Last year the cut was four-under but I don’t think it will be as much this time. Anyway, I am feeling confident. I worked on the game and physical fitness also as the season can get long towards the end.”
“But somehow I have not been able to play my best.I have missed the cut last two times, but right I am feeling more confident. Hopefully I will be able to get putting right and it has been my strength.” said S.S.P. Chawrasia, who had played here no less than six times and made the cut three times.