Thai prodigy thrilled with British Open berth

Phachara Khongwatmai.
Phachara Khongwatmai.

CHONBURI (Thailand) • Teenage Thai sensation Phachara Khongwatmai was pinching himself yesterday after sensationally qualifying for next year's British Open with a stunning final round at the Thailand Golf Championship.

"I'm now overwhelmed with happiness as I get to play in the Open next year," said the 16-year-old, who shot a final-day six-under 66 on Sunday to finish ahead of double Major champions Bubba Watson and Martin Kaymer and secure the fourth and final place up for grabs in the world's oldest Major.

Phachara's total of 13-under 275 gave him sole possession of sixth spot, one shot ahead of Kaymer and five better than Watson.

It was a completely unexpected bonus for Phachara, who only secured his place in the Thai Golf Championship field after scraping through local qualifying.

A PLEASANT SURPRISE

I came through the qualifiers on Monday and I was already very happy to be given a chance to play with the top stars this week. I surprised even myself to finish so well.

PHACHARA KHONGWATMAI

"I came through the qualifiers on Monday and I was already very happy to be given a chance to play with the top stars this week. I surprised even myself to finish so well," he said.

It is not the first time that he has made headlines.

In July 2013, he won the Asean PGA Tour's Hua Hin Open in Thailand to become the youngest player in history to win a professional tour event.

He was just 14 years and two months old at the time, almost seven months younger than women's golf sensation Lydia Ko when she won the New South Wales Open in 2012.

"I played without much expectation and I guess that was the key to playing so well today," said the young Thai, who will tee off at the season-ending Philippines Open on Thursday.

Phachara's haul of US$33,300 (S$46,960) prize money also propelled him up to 65th in the Asian Tour Order of Merit. That gives him hope of finishing among the top 63 and retaining his Tour card for next year.

The Thailand Golf Championship was part of The Open Qualifying Series where four places were offered to the leading four players who have not already qualified for the 2016 Open.

Jamie Donaldson won the tournament on 21-under 267.

The Welshman and joint runners-up Lee Westwood of England and Clement Sordet of France secured the other three places in the 2016 Open.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 15, 2015, with the headline 'Thai prodigy thrilled with British Open berth'. Print Edition | Subscribe