V Krishnaswamy in Kuala Lumpur
Kuala Lumpur, Feb 8: Just as the year 2016 was coming to an end, Thongchai Jaidee was tantalizingly close to getting into Top-50 of the Official World Golf Rankings, a placement that would have got him into the Majors for 2017.
But it was not to be, as he Tied-14th at the UBS Hong Kong Open and then T-6 at the smaller, ADT event, the Boonchu Ruangkit Championship. He finished the year at 54th place and is currently at 60th.
As a former paratrooper in the Army, he made at least 60 jumps, and now he seeks to jump from his current 60th in World Rankings to inside Top-50. His career best was 28th at the end of 2015.
The start in 2017 has not been as he would have wished, with missed cuts in Abu Dhabi and Qatar, but he did show signs of finding the rhythm at Dubai Classic, where he Tied-15th with a final round 67.
Winner of 13 Asian Tour titles, and four European Tour titles, with one each in 2012 and the last three years, Thongchai is a two-time winner in Malaysia in 2004 and 2005. At the first of those two wins, he had a memorable hole-in-one at the 16th at Saujana, which put him on road to stardom.
Now he is here for the Maybank Malaysian Championships, where a good finish, preferably a win could get him back on the track to Top-50.
Excerpts of an interview with Thongchai at the Maybank Championships.
Q: Lots of memories here obviously?
A: I’ve won twice at Saujana in 2004 and 2005 which was very important for my career. That’s why I love this golf course. A two-time winner. My life changed from here. On the last day in 2004, I made a hole in one on the 16th hole during the final round and I won by two shots. One shot changed my life. It made me who I am today. That’s why I love coming back to Malaysia. It’s like my second home. I have a lot of friends and fans’ support here.
Q: Has the golf course changed much?
A few holes changed, like number six and seven. The condition is great. They’ve made changes to all the greens and the course is also longer now, it’s going to be difficult this week. The layout is almost the same but the length is longer. All the par threes, over 200 yards, it’s going to be challenging. Who plays the par three well will have a good chance this year. The par fives, some of them are really tough too. Par threes will be important.
Q: How important is it for the Asian Tour players to have an opportunity to compete in a big event like the Maybank Championship against European Tour players?
A: It’s a good chance for the Asian Tour players to win the tournament. It’s an open field. A very consistent player will do well. You need to hit the fairways, don’t really need to be long. I think there’s a good chance for the Asian Tour players to win. A lot of our young players are coming up. We’ve got a strong field from Europe this week but I do think we have a good chance to get a winner from the Asian Tour.
I’ve been struggling a bit with my putting. I had two and a half week off at the end of the year and I’ve been trying to improve on my putting. My tee shots and irons are very good but I have to work hard at my putting. If you hit it 300 yards and make three putts, that’s not good. Trying to get better with the putter. Last week, I putted better on the last day in Dubai.
Q: Were you happy with 2016?
A: I was happy as I won a big tournament, the French Open. In 2017, I would like to win another tournament. That’s my target.
Q: Is the world top-50 a target for you?
A: A win this week will be nice as it can take me back into the top-50. That’s why I would like to win this week. I will also get into the Masters. I think I have a good chance. I know the course well. I’ve won two times here. I’ll be trying.
Q: What’s your game strategy?
It’ll be my putting. That’s going to be the key. I hit 16 greens in the pro am yesterday and made only three birdies. I’ll spend a few hours on the practice putting green today for sure and try to gain my confidence back.
Q: What keeps you playing so well at this stage of your career?
I never give up. I know how to work at my game. I train a lot. I got back to the gym early this year again. Will keep working hard at the gym for the next two months to get stronger. I also work on my golf swing a lot.
Q: How do you help grow the sport especially amongst ASEAN players?
A: It’s about learning to play in tournaments. The future is good for the next generation of ASEAN players. It’s good to see them in the field this week. I have my own Foundation at home, I have my own golf team from 2001. It’s a junior team which is a project that I do to support the juniors from poor families. Our Foundation supports tournaments too, like I do the Asian Development Tour tournament. I want to give back to the people and the sport. I want to do the right thing as someone supported me when I had nothing.
Q: How did your experience in the army help in your career?
A: When I was in the army, we had a golf team. We played together for three years. But the good thing was that I also trained like the army. I became strong from that. I was a paratrooper and ranger and it made me strong physically and mentally. Looking back, the army training helped my golf game a lot.
Q: How many times did you jump out from a plane?
A: At least 60 times. It’s very good. The first time, I was very scared. We couldn’t sleep the night before. We talked about how we were going to get ourselves to jump off a plane. It was like a dream to come off the plane. After the second jump, it became easier and it became more relaxing although it’s very dangerous. You have to be careful with the jumps. Mentally it helped me for sure as you have to be careful during the jumps.