11 July 2024

Thongchai Jaidee has risen to the status of a legend on the Thai golf circuit over the past two decades. Throughout his prosperous career, the man nicknamed TJ by his fellow pros, has blazed a trail that other Thai golfers can only envy. Crowned No 1 player on the Asian Tour three times, Thongchai has also bagged eight titles on the European Tour and reached a career-high of No 27 in the world back in 2016.

Still setting records at 52

Now 52 and playing mainly on the senior tour, the Lopburi-based veteran is still setting records. On Sunday, June 12, he pinned a new chapter in the history books by becoming the first Thai to win on the PGA TOUR Champions, a senior tour in the US, with a one-stroke victory over Tom Pernice Jr at the American Family Insurance Championship.

Thongchai signed off with a round of 4-under 68 for a winning total of 14-under 202 at the University of Wisconsin Golf Course to celebrate his maiden trophy on US soil in what was his 19th career start on the PGA TOUR Champions.

One factor that contributed to his breakthrough on the Champions tour was his old putter, which he started using again three weeks ago.

“Boonchu [Ruangkit] returned it to me, so I had it refitted and practiced with it again. I finally found that this old putter really suits me more. On any given day, I can make a lot of great putts with it,” said the former Thai No 1, who booked his spot in the American Family Insurance Championship by finishing a joint 10th in Iowa the week before.

Fourteen-under marked the lowest 54-hole score Thongchai has achieved on the PGA TOUR Champions. He also became the first overseas winner of the American Family Insurance Championship since the inaugural tournament in 2016. And the win earned him automatic qualification for the tour next season.

It also burnished his status as one of Asia’s bona fide golfing greats.

Thongchai Jaidee holds the trophy following his victory in the American Family Insurance Championship.

Parachuting to greatness

Thongchai first found national fame in 1995 as an amateur, when he clinched the SEA Games golf gold medal for Thailand. Back then, as a paratrooper serving in the military, he had to divide his time between jumping out of planes from 10,000 feet and practicing on the greens.

Not until he reached the age of 30 did he finally decide to turn his back on the Royal Thai Army and pursue a professional career in golf. One year later, in 2000, he claimed his first Asian Tour crown at the Korean Open, embarking on a path that was to bring him 13 Asian Tour titles.

In February 2004, he set another record by becoming the first Thai to win a tournament on the European Tour – currently known as the DP World Tour – with his victory in the Malaysian Open.

So far, he has eight European Tour titles in his trophy cabinet, making him the most successful Thai golfer on the tour. His latest European Tour win was at the Open de France back in 2016.

His 2014 Masters appearance saw Thongchai become the first golfer from Thailand to compete in all four Majors, after contesting the PGA Championship and The Open in 2009 and the US Open in 2010. His tied 13th in the 2009 Open still marks the best performance by a Thai in a Major.

Despite a long career studded with titles, Thongchai has yet to earn membership of the PGA Tour, the world’s premier professional golf circuit for men. However, a tour card is no longer in his sights. Instead, a Major title on the PGA Tour remains the ultimate target at this stage of his career. He can also take inspiration from the thousands of Siamese fighting fish he keeps as pets back home in Lopburi.

“As a pro on the men’s tour, my biggest dream is to win a Major. Anything can happen in a game of golf if it’s your week and if luck is on your side,” said Thongchai.

Advice to youngsters

However, with the likes of Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Jazz Janewattannond following his footsteps with impressive international results and appearances in all four Majors, Thailand’s golf legend wants to see his compatriots go further than him on the global stage. His advice to young generation players is to be fearless and grab opportunities.

“Thailand has many young players with potential. But they have to be courageous to play on the tour and take the right path. Setting a clear goal, staying patient, and having good self-discipline are also the keys. Nothing comes easy, but you just have to give it a try,” Thongchai said.

By Thai PBS World’s Sport Desk