Thongchai: Important for Asians to do well at St Andrews

PETALING JAYA: Reigning Asian Tour number one Thongchai Jaidee will lead the region’s push for glory at the British Open at St Andrews, Scotland, next week with the hope of emulating Lu Liang-huan’s famous runner-up finish some three decades ago.  

Taiwan’s “Mr Lu”, well known as well for his pork-pie hats, came closest to being the first Asian winner at the world’s oldest Major in 1971 when he lost to American Lee Trevino by one stroke at Royal Birkdale.  

With golf in the region making giant strides and the Asian Tour showing tremendous growth – it will stage a record 28 events with an unprecedented US$20mil in total prize money this season – Thongchai knows the timing is perfect for Asians to shine on the world stage.  

Several other Asian Tour members will join the Thai star at the Old Course of St Andrews from next Thursday, including Danny Chia - Malaysia’s first player to qualify for a Major, Singaporean Mardan Mamat and another Thai, Thammanoon Srirot.  

“It’ll be important for Asians to play well,” said Thongchai, who jointly holds the most number of titles, seven, on the Asian Tour.  

“The first aim will be to make the halfway cut and then hopefully win the title. We must try our best.”  

It will be Thongchai’s second foray at the Open and he will be seeking for redemption as his maiden outing in 2002 ended in despair. Playing at Muirfield, the former soldier played his opening round with a sore back and stumbled to an 80. He later withdrew from the second round.  

“I fell asleep on the hotel bed and woke up with a sore back,” recalled the Thai, who normally sleeps on the floor. “There will be no more beds for me at St Andrews. I was very disappointed in 2002 but this year, everything is perfect. I will try to do something.”  

Currently playing in the Barclays Scottish Open where he shot a fine opening 66 for tied sixth place on Thursday, Thongchai is one of Asia’s best bets for honours.  

He successfully defended his Carlsberg Malaysian Open in February, an event jointly sanctioned with the European Tour, and is presently ranked 77th in the world.  

A recent month-long break in Bangkok recharged his batteries and Thongchai is also confident of tackling the venerable Old Course after three previous visits for the Dunhill Links Championship.  

“I feel I’m swinging it good now and I recently changed putter which feels better. The pot bunkers at the Old Course are the main challenges. I’ve played St Andrews a few times and shot a 68 in 2003. I know the layout well,” said the Thai, who was also Asia’s number one in 2001. 

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