Thai teenager Phachara Khongwatmai will contend at the Philippine Open presented by ICTSI with an extra spring in his step as he aims to make it a truly memorable two-week swing.
The 16-year-old qualified for The Open in 2016 last week and is high on confidence ahead of the US$300,000 event which starts on Thursday at the Luisita Golf and Country Club.
After finishing sixth in Thailand last week, Phachara needs another good result to break into the top-63 on the Order of Merit, which is the final cut-off for players to retain their Tour card for 2016.
He is two spots off the safety zone and trails Keith Horne of South Africa, who occupies 63rd spot, by a mere US$367.
“I feel good and my confidence is very high at the moment. It was a huge surprise to earn a spot at The Open. I’m so happy with my performance and I believe I can do well or even win this week,” said Phachara, who turned professional at the age of 14.
He will challenge for the prestigious trophy against an elite cast which includes Order of Merit champions Thaworn Wiratchant of Thailand and Juvic Pagunsan of the Philippines.
Paul Peterson of the United States, ranked fifth on the Order of Merit, Gaganjeet Bhullar of India and Singapore’s Mardan Mamat, winner of the Philippine Open in 2012, will also feature in the event.
Phachara, whose name is ‘Diamond’ in Thai, hopes to shine on the Asian Tour after gaining valuable experience on the Asian Development Tour (ADT) where he became the youngest winner earlier this year.
“I’m definitely a better player now as compared to when I was an amateur. I learnt so much playing on the ADT and in Asian Tour events. I’m striking the ball better and I’ve improved after playing against some of the best players in the world and in Asia,” he said.
After securing his Tour card for five seasons on the Asian Tour, Seukhyun Baek of Korea, ranked 77th on the Order of Merit, is facing the prospect of losing his playing rights on the region’s premier Tour.
“I only played in nine Asian Tour events because I’ve been playing in Japan. I didn’t play well in those events so this week is important to keep my card. I missed my card in Japan by about US$300 but I’m not disappointed. It gives me a chance to reset and work harder on my game,” said Baek.
“You need to be clever here. You don’t need to attack on every hole. I need to stay patient especially in this event. Every stroke is important for me this week. I won’t give up easily on trying to save my Asian Tour card,” he added.
Young Indian talent Khalin Joshi also faces a tough test at the Philippine Open as he is placed 69th on the Order of Merit. Despite the mounting pressure, Joshi remains positive of his chances in Asia’s oldest National Open.
“It is an important week because I’m eager to keep my card but it won’t be playing in my head. I feel my game is in a good place to win so I want to finish off the season with a victory. That will get me a winner’s exemption,” smiled the 23-year-old, who finished tied second in Bangladesh earlier this year.
The storied Philippine Open has celebrated many worthy champions in the past including Australia’s Peter Thomson, Lu Liang-huan and Hsieh Min-nan of Chinese Taipei, Mardan Mamat of Singapore and Filipino stars Frankie Minoza, Angelo Que, Larry Montes, Celestino Tugot, Ben Arda and Luis ‘Golem’ Silverio, who won as an amateur in 1966.