| Shoot for the Stars

At a time when iconic Asian Tour leg­ends such as K.J. Choi, Jeev Milkha Singh, Thongchai Jaidee and Y.E. Yang, are tip­ping the op­po­site end of the golf­ing scale by hit­ting past their mid40s age mark, a bunch of fear­less young guns have since emerged to en

HK Golfer - - Contents - By Chuah Choo Chi­ang

Asia’s reser­voir of golf­ing tal­ent con­tin­ues to grow deeper with the ex­cit­ing emer­gence of new and young ris­ing stars.

The lat­est spark to hit the Asian Tour scene in a big way is Rat­tanon Wan­nas­richan, a 22-year-old who claimed a stun­ning start-to-fin­ish vic­tory at the Thai­land Open, which made a wel­come re­turn onto the Asian Tour Sched­ule fol­low­ing an eight-year lapse. Baby-faced Rat­tanon up­staged a top field at the Thai Coun­try Club which in­cluded reign­ing Asian Tour No. 1 Scott Hend and 2013 Or­der of Merit cham­pion Ki­radech Aphibarn­rat to se­cure his ca­reer break­through.

His rise isn’t quite a to­tal sur­prise. As an ama­teur, Rat­tanon showed glimpses of his po­ten­tial by win­ning the South­east Asian Games ‘dou­ble’ when he bagged the in­di­vid­ual and team gold medals in 2011.

He turned pro­fes­sional soon af­ter in the fol­low­ing year, and cut his teeth on the do­mes­tic Thai cir­cuit and Asian De­vel­op­ment Tour in which he won the 2015 Tai­fong Open against sev­eral of Chi­nese Taipei’s lead­ing stars in­clud­ing Lu Wei-chih and Chan Shih-chang.

Rat­tanon’s learn­ing curve main­tained its pos­i­tive trend when he fin­ished 60th on the Or­der of Merit, thanks to top-10s in the Shin­han Dong­hae Open in Korea and Vene­tian Ma­cao Open to earn the last and fi­nal full Tour card for 2017.

Two top-five fin­ishes in Bangladesh and Chi­nese Taipei early this sea­son pro­vided the pre­lude to his Thai Open tri­umph in which he raced to a glo­ri­ous home win with his 21-un­der­par 263 ag­gre­gate af­ter open­ing with a fly­ing 62. He av­er­aged only 24 putts per round that week.

“I have waited five years for this win. I am re­ally proud of my­self. I fi­nally proved that I can do it,” said Rat­tanon. “I’m no longer afraid of any­one af­ter the win. I’m feel­ing con­fi­dent.”

He joined fel­low young­sters Jazz Janewat­tananond, 21, Dan­thai Boonma, also 21, and 23-year-old Natipong Sri­tong in the exclusive Asian Tour cham­pi­ons club which prompted ex­pe­ri­enced In­dian Shiv Ka­pur, who fin­ished se­cond to Rat­tanon, to mar­vel at the rise of the Thai kids.

“There’s just a big bunch of young kids com­ing up from Thai­land and In­dia es­pe­cially,” said the dou­ble Asian Tour win­ner.

In ad­di­tion, 18-year-old Phachara Khong­wat­mai was ranked an im­pres­sive third on the Asian Tour’s Or­der of Merit at the time of writ­ing fol­low­ing two run­ner-up fin­ishes

in the SMBC Sin­ga­pore Open, which fea­tured Adam Scott and Ser­gio Gar­cia, and the ISPS HANDA World Su­per 6 Perth.

Away from Thai­land, Chikkarang­gapa S. and Shub­hankar Sharma, both in their early 20s, are only a cou­ple of promis­ing prospects tipped to carry In­dia’s flag on the in­ter­na­tional front over the next decade or so. For­mer Asian Tour num­ber one Anir­ban Lahiri, who turned 30 at the end of June, is now at the prime of his ca­reer and ply­ing his trade full time on the PGA TOUR which is bound to make him a bet­ter golfer.

Young blood con­tin­ues to flow in the veins of Korea’s Je­unghun Wang, who is al­ready a three­time Euro­pean Tour cham­pion and he’s still only 21! Filipino hopes will rest squarely on the shoul­ders of 22-year-old Miguel Tabuena, who has won once on the Asian Tour.

Long-hit­ting Gavin Green, 23, is Malaysia’s new hope, with two run­ner-up fin­ishes in In­dia and Chi­nese Taipei this sea­son push­ing him into the top-five of the Or­der of Merit.

Of course, Ja­pan’s Hideki Mat­suyama re­mains as the re­gion’s shin­ing light. At 25, he has al­ready won four times on the PGA Tour, in­clud­ing this sea­son’s Phoenix Open. With five top-10s in the Ma­jors, Mat­suyama will cer­tainly drive the in­spi­ra­tion for the likes of Rat­tanon and com­pany to shoot for the stars.

Chuach Choo Chi­ang is Di­rec­tor, Com­mu­ni­ca­tion of the Asian Tour and is based in Malaysia.

“I have waited five years for this win. I am re­ally proud of my­self. I fi­nally proved that I can do it,” said Rat­tanon

18-year-old Phachara

Khong­wat­mai was ranked an im­pres­sive

third on the Asian Tour’s Or­der of Merit at the time of writ­ing

21-year-old Shub­hankar Sharma is a promis­ing prospect tipped to carry In­dia’s flag on the in­ter­na­tional front over the next decade or so

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