Golf: Fearless Phachara, 17, making waves

Phachara Khongwatmai lining up a shot at the Serapong course, before finishing tied-second at the Singapore Open which concluded yesterday. The 17-year-old is one of a new wave of golfers from his country looking to rise through the ranks.
Phachara Khongwatmai lining up a shot at the Serapong course, before finishing tied-second at the Singapore Open which concluded yesterday. The 17-year-old is one of a new wave of golfers from his country looking to rise through the ranks.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Shortly after Prayad Marksaeng was confirmed as the winner of the SMBC Singapore Open yesterday, some of his younger Thai compatriots poured water on the 50-year-old.

While the champion soaked in the limelight, he was not the only Thai to catch the eye yesterday.

Finishing tied-second on eight-under 276 overall was someone almost three times younger, 17-year-old Phachara Khongwatmai.

In 2013, as an amateur, the teenager made waves by becoming the youngest golfer to win a professional event at the Asean PGA Tour's Singha Hua Hin Open.

He turned pro in August 2014 - at the age of 15 - and won two Asian Development Tour events the following year.

Yesterday, he not only finished above seasoned top golfers like Adam Scott and Sergio Garcia, but also qualified for his second straight appearance at the prestigious British Open in July.

Phachara is not surprised by how quickly he has tasted success having first picked up a club at the age of nine in primary school, which offered only tennis or golf as a sport.

The Hat Yai native, who lives in Bangkok, joked: "I think I've got talent in golf. I don't practise my putting much, maybe just for one hour a day. I just go out there to play and not think so much."

The only golfer in his family, he has lofty ambitions. He said: "I hope to become the best Thai golfer. And maybe in one or two years, I want to play in Europe and become one of the top 20 golfers in the world."

His compatriots on the Tour have noticed his aggressive, free-swinging style and have tipped the youngster for greater things.

Pavit Tangkamolprasert, who finished tied-11th on five-under 279, said: "He's so young and talented, he's always aggressive, he doesn't look scared and he handles pressure well. Last year, when I played with him, even if things were not going well, he would say, 'I'll just go and try to hit for more birdies.'

"If he keeps performing like this, he'll be a world-class player."

Thanyakon Khrongpha, 26, was in the same flight as the 1.85m-tall Phachara yesterday. He added: "He just attacks the pins without worry. He's a new boy to keep a look out for. He's a tall and fit player so that's a good advantage for him."

Phachara is among a clutch of Thai golfers who are rising in prominence. Three of them - Pavit, 27, Thitiphun Chuayprakong, 24 and Poom Saksansin, 23 - all won their first Asian Tour titles last year.

While Phachara senses the growing excitement about his potential, he said he is not in a hurry to win more tournaments.

He said: "I go into every tournament with the same goal - to make the cut. If I go further, it's a privilege because I'm still so young and I have a lot of time to grow."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 23, 2017, with the headline 'Fearless Phachara, 17, making waves'. Print Edition | Subscribe