Golf: Thai prodigy Ratchanon wants to be world No. 1

Ratchanon Chantananuwat claimed the Trust Golf Asia Mixed Cup in Thailand. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

SINGAPORE – Shortly after touching down in Singapore late on Wednesday night, Ratchanon Chantananuwat received a pleasant surprise when he was stopped and recognised by a stranger at Changi Airport.

While such occurrences have become more common since he made history in April by becoming the youngest male player to win on a major Tour when he claimed the Trust Golf Asia Mixed Cup in Thailand, he is still getting used to his newfound fame.

But these interactions with fans have only served as motivation for the teenager to keep improving.

He told The Straits Times: “I’m surprised how other people in other countries have heard of me, I didn’t think it would be the case.

“It’s not just in golf but the coolest thing about playing a sport is the fans when they’re cheering for you. It’s rewarding and inspiring as well that there are these people backing me, it inspires me to work harder.”

Ratchanon, whose nickname “TK” is a combination of the initials of his parents’ first names, is in Singapore to train for a few days and will return for the Trust Golf Singapore Junior Masters.

The Nov 28-30 tournament, held at Laguna National Golf Resort Club, is part of the Singapore Junior Development Tour.

Ratchanon has bagged two Junior World Golf Championship titles (under-six and nine-10 boys division) and three US Kids World Championship crowns and claimed a team silver at the SEA Games in Hanoi in May.

“I know I have to keep my head down. Since my win, it’s been pretty quiet on the golf side because I’ve been travelling a lot and playing big tournaments for the first time but now that I’m back in Asia, I want to get my second win,” said Ratchanon, who swung his first club when he was three.

“After the day you win, it doesn’t matter anymore. It’s what you do next, not what you do in the past, which is what my dad has always taught me.”

Since his breakthrough in April, he has several top-10 finishes at pro events such as the PDC Golf Championship and 50th Thailand Open on the PGA EuroPro Tour and All Thailand Golf Tour respectively. A second title is his immediate goal but the long-term dream is far loftier.

“Ideally top of the world if that’s possible,” he said. “Tiger [Woods] always said if you’re not trying to win then why are you playing? So world No. 1, hopefully.”

This is what motivates him to put in countless hours at the range, hitting 1,000 balls or more. Whenever his idol Thongchai Jaidee is in Thailand, Ratchanon also makes the two-hour trip to Lopburi to train with him, spending almost 10 hours working on his game.

Even though he is only 15, there is never enough time it seems as he juggles his studies at Shrewsbury International School in Bangkok and sporting commitments.

Before school, he sometimes goes for an early morning run. After class ends, he trains from 3.30pm to 7.30pm. On non-school days, he still squeezes in up to three hours of tutoring before practising for the rest of the day.

As pro tournaments are held on longer and harder courses, Ratchanon has had to work on his long game, focusing on six to three irons. To improve his consistency, he tries to ensure each shot lands within five per cent of the respective club’s yardage.

He said: “I always have to actively tell myself, ‘you’re not good, you have to get better’. Because the second you tell yourself you’re good, you stop improving. I genuinely do believe that compared to a lot of the world-class pros, I’m so far behind where I want to be.”

He also draws inspiration from other Asian golfers like Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, who won the 2021 Masters, and fellow Thai prodigy Atthaya Thitikul. The 19-year-old has been making waves in women’s golf, going from 308th to second in the world rankings within a year.

Ratchanon said: “It’s great to see that an Asian (Matsuyama) has proved that it’s possible. And now with Kim Joo-hyung, someone who is really close to me, winning two PGA Tour events, it makes it seem so much more possible. I’ve got to thank both of them for showing me that it is doable and what I’m doing could be worth it in the end.”

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