MAYBANK Malaysian Open reigning champion Kiradech Aphibarnrat will have a new coach by his side when he begins his title defence on Thursday. The Asian Tour number one enjoyed his career’s biggest win 12 months ago and he hopes to relive the winning feeling on his favourite hunting ground at the Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club.
Former world number one Lee Westwood of England, Major champion Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa, Thongchai Jaidee of Thailand, a three-time Asian Tour number one and Italian Matteo Manassero will headline the event jointly sanctioned by the Asian Tour and European Tour.
EurAsia Cup Asian team heroes Anirban Lahiri of India, Siddikur Rahman of Bangladesh, Nicholas Fung of Malaysia and Thailand’s Prayad Marksaeng will also feature in Malaysia’s national championship.
All eyes will be on Kiradech who has struggled to come to terms with the death of his former coach Natpasit Chokthanasart, nicknamed Pro Jew, who died last December. Not only did his swing suffer, the big Thai was also emotionally affected through the passing of a man who he called “my second dad.”
But with a new coach, Pompetch Saraputti, in his stable now, Kiradech hopes the new partnership will soon yield more success.
“Losing my coach affected me mentally and my golf game. I stayed with him more than my dad. We spend a lot of time together. After he died, I couldn’t sleep for a couple of days. It felt like I lost one of my dads and all my confidence was gone. We talked about how we would win Major tournaments together. I didn’t expect him to die at a young age (58),” Kiradech explained.
He has started to enjoy the fruits of working with a permanent coach again, saying that Pompetch has fixed some minor flaws that crept into his game in the past two weeks since hooking up together.
“Pompetch was a former Thai national team player when I was young. He got an injury so he had to quit golf. He knows my game and swing very well and he made one small change in my swing which has helped especially with my iron play,” said the 24-year-old.
The long-hitting Thai, one of the most exciting young stars to emerge from the Asian Tour, also regained his self-belief after contributing 1 ½ points in the inaugural EurAsia Cup presented by DRB-HICOM which Team Asia fought back to draw with Europe in Malaysia.
After an opening day’s 0-5 loss in the fourball, Kiradech played a key role in Asia’s comeback where he defeated Thomas Bjorn of Denmark 2 & 1 in the singles.
“The European players are all world-class players. When we saw the pairings, I told my teammates that it won’t be easy to defeat them. However, the way we came back after losing 0-5 in the first round was amazing. It will give me a lot of confidence for this week. I believe I still can win,” said Kiradech.
The popular Siddikur, who defeated Stephen Gallacher of Scotland in the singles in contributing two points for the team, hopes to celebrate more highs at the Maybank Malaysian Open.
“The EurAsia Cup got my country excited. After I landed, they really welcomed me and threw me a few receptions which were really good. It gave me more energy to do better in the future. I’m always happy to come back to Malaysia,” said Siddikur, who is a two-time champion in Asia.
Lahiri, a three-time Asian Tour winner, is confident he can contend at the Maybank Malaysian Open and improve his world ranking where he currently sits in 107th position.
“This field is very good and it’s a good thing for us. It’s a good opportunity for us to beat some of these guys and make our mark. Personally, I’ve played in some really strong fields, I’ve played in a Major and I know what is the level of golf that I have to play my ‘A’ game to beat these guys,” said Lahiri.
“I know that I can beat these guys. If I can focus on what I can do, it doesn’t matter what the field is. It’s a good chance for me to go up the world rankings as well as the stronger the field, the world ranking points will be high,” he added.