| 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
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
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