KUALA LUMPUR: Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Malaysia’s budding amateur Gavin Kyle Green provided the cheers in the rain-hit Maybank Malaysian Open at the Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club last weekend.
Kiradech, Thailand’s 24-year-old rising star, led from Day One to win the US$2.75mil event and seal his place in history as the youngest winner on the European Tour this year. It was his second career win but one which will see him smiling all the way to the bank with a US$458,330 cheque.
The 19-year-old Gavin, on the other hand, was one of the three Malaysians to make the cut for the final round in the tournament which was shortened to 54 holes.
The other two were Danny Chia and S. Murthy.
Gavin’s performance has given hopes of a Malaysian lifting the Seagram Trophy in the future.
Quite a number of golfers who saw Gavin in action had good things to say of him and felt that he could be a champion in the making.
Of course the question is whether the youngster can go on to fulfil his potential and in the process provide a local winner of the trophy long envisaged by the golfing fraternity in Malaysia.
Gavin was awarded the best Malaysian-finisher trophy at the prize giving ceremony and was praised by the Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, who also predicted a bright future for him.
“I think he is a good player and is the next big hope for Malaysian golf. He might very well be our future Malaysian Open winner and the next Tiger Woods,” said Tan Sri Muhyiddin
Gavin will return to the United States on Monday with a wealth of experience as he continues to represent his college team.
However, big hitting Kiradech was the story of the day as he battled the weather and illness to beat a star-studded field.
Despite having to battle the elements and a thyroid problem, the 23-year-old showed he can measure up to the best in the competition as he outduelled Major winners such as South Africa’s Charl Schwartzel and Ireland’s Padraig Harrington as well as Ryder Cup star Edoardo Molinari of Italy.
The win propelled Kiradech to the top of the Asian Tour’s Order of Merit – a position he is determined to be in when the season comes to a close at the end of the year.
“It’s the Tour (Asian Tour) where I was born. I’m going to be 24 this year and I’ve got another 20 years to play.
“I’ll try to win as many tournaments as I can. I’ve three Tours to play on now (Asian Tour, Japan Tour, European Tour) but my focus will be to win the Asian Tour Order of Merit,” said Kiradech
“I’ll try to win a Major event. I cannot say when but I’ll try my best. I just play for fun. I don’t have any routine. I will train hard and as usual aim to win whatever tournaments I take part in,” he added
Dubbed Asia’s John Daly due to his physique and style of play the Thai does not mind the comparison.
“I’m happy with the name, John Daly of Asia. He won a Major event and I’m proud someone has called me that. It will good if I actually win a Major as that is my main aim now.”
The Thai will also be making his maiden appearance at the US Open after he won a place from the Asian International Final Qualifying round earlier in Thailand this month.
Kiradech’s quick rise since his amateur days where he was crowned World Junior Champion on two occasions can be credited to the unity and close bond he shares with his compatriots.
“The Thai pro golfers stay together like a family. Boonchu Ruangkit, Thaworn Wiratchant, Prom Meesawat and Thongchai Jaidee all provide valuable advice to the younger golfers in Thailand,” said Kiradech.
India’s Gaganjeet Bhullar, meanwhile, slipped to second place on the Order of Merit after missing the cut in Malaysia while China’s Liang Wen-chong is in third place after his season’s haul of US$175,909.
The Asian Tour will travel to Thailand for the inaugural Chiangmai Golf Classic presented by PTT which will be held at the Alpine Golf Resort-Chiangmai from March 28-31.