Thai teen wonder Phachara Khongwatmai will be amongst the youngest competitors at The Open next week but the 17-year-old whiz kid will not cower when he lines up against the game’s big boys.
The Asian Tour starlet earned the chance to rub shoulders with the likes of Jason Day, Rory McIlroy and Jordon Spieth at Royal Troon after finishing sixth at last December’s Thailand Golf Championship, a designated Open Qualifying Series event.
Earning his Major stripes at such a tender age may seem impressive to some but young Phachara has proven time and again that he is not a flash in the pan.
He first came to prominence by winning a professional tournament on home soil as a 14-year-old amateur in 2014 where he is believed to be the youngest player ever to achieve the feat.
Early last year, Phachara won on the Asian Development Tour (ADT), the region’s development circuit, as a 15-year-old in Malaysia and followed that up with another impressive victory at home in December against a field that included Thailand’s top players such as Thongchai Jaidee, Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Prom Meesawat.
With such impressive performances, the youngster can’t wait to tee up at Royal Troon from July 14 to 17.
“I’m lucky to get this chance so early in my career (to play in a Major). This will give me more time to learn and to one day take the chance to win a Major. This is not the only time I will play in a Major. I will have the chance to play more at the Open and other Majors as well,” said Phachara.
“I’m sure I won’t feel any pressure playing at The Open despite my age. Kiradech and Thongchai will also be there so I’ll stick close to them. Hopefully they will take care of me! Making the cut will be great.”
Phachara has done as much home work as possible in preparation for his first test on a links course, speaking to caddies and other Thai golfers who have competed at The Open.
“My game is getting better now. I feel it has been improving day by day. I’m a bit older and I’m more mature. I know when to attack and when to play it safe,” he said.
“I’ve talked to Prom (Meesawat) and Kiradech’s caddy. They told me the weather will change from hot to cold, cold to hot at any time and it will be crazy windy. They told me to be prepared for anything. I think I can play well in windy conditions because I’ve been practising hitting low ball flights.
“I love to play in a big event. It will be a challenge and I will get to watch the other top players. There is something special in them.”
Based in Bangkok, Phachara tries to do the things that kids his age enjoy, like hanging out in shopping malls with friends and eating out. But the path that he has chosen in professional golf means he is often practicing at the range when he’s not travelling on the Asian Tour or Asian Development Tour.
“I normally go out with my parents and girlfriend for shopping. After turning pro, I seldom go back to Hatyai (his hometown) to meet with school friends. When I’m in Bangkok, I always practice and hang out with (fellow professionals) Pariya (Junhasavasdikul) and Pavit (Tangkamolprasert),” he said.
His success last season has probably made him one of the richest sporting teenagers in Thailand but Phachara has given his money to his parents.
“My whole prize money belongs to my parents,” he said. “They gave 10% of my earnings for my personal expenses … I’m happy that way and most of my expenses are spent on great food too!”