Sporting Heroes Thongchai Jaidee
Thailand is currently producing an outstanding crop of golfers in both the men’s and women’s game, highlighted by Ariya Jutanugarn’s recent victory in the recent LPGA Thailand Classic played at the old course at Siam Country Club. The men’s game also has some excellent players from Thailand who are either already established or coming through the ranks. Jazz Janewattananond and Kiradech Aphibarnrat are two well-known names on the men’s tour and many others are beginning to emerge.
Before most of the current crop were even born, the man blazing the trail for Thai golf was Thongchai Jaidee. Born in Lopburi, Thailand in 1969, Thongchai did not even start playing the game until age sixteen, which was considered far too late to make an impact on the professional ranks. Even then he did not go straight into golf but joined the Royal Thai Army, where he was a paratrooper in special forces and did not actually turn professional until age thirty!
Considering his background, the amount of success that Thongchai achieved in golf is remarkable. He won thirteen times on the Asian Tour and finished the order of merit winner in 2001, 2004 and 2009. Even more remarkably he was an eight time winner on the European tour, starting in 2004 when the Malaysian Open became a co-sanctioned tournament between the two bodies. This was the first time a Thai national had won a European event, and he went on to defend the title the following year. His success was not limited to Asia though. After his first four European tour wins he traveled to Celtic manor in Wales and won the ISPS Handa Wales Open by one stroke. In 2015 he won the European Open, played in Germany, by a stroke after shooting a 67 in the final round for victory.
His last and perhaps most impressive win on the tour was when in 2016, at the age of 46, he won the Open de France by four strokes. Not only was he the oldest player to win the tournament since it’s inception in 1972, he shot two 68’s over the weekend and had a run of 39 holes without a bogey on that difficult course.
Thongchai, now 51 and qualified for the Champions Tour in the USA, is a great supporter of the future generations of golfers that are following his lead. “I want to set an example for the next generation,” he says. “In the future I want the young Thai and Asian players to perform better than Thongchai Jaidee. I want them to see that I started from nothing but managed to get where I am today”. Some of those young Thai players have indeed started to achieve outstanding results on the big stage, particularly in the women’s game. It looks like the great example that was set by Thongchai Jaidee has inspired future generations of players. Long may it continue.