Thai teenager Phachara Khongwatmai, the youngest competitor at The Open this week, only has one goal at Royal Troon which is to have loads of fun.
The 17-year-old Asian Tour newcomer has been like a kid in a candy store since arriving at the famous Scottish links last week, absorbing in the thrill and excitement of featuring in his maiden Major appearance.
“I’m very happy to be the youngest boy to play in the Open which is the oldest championship in the world. I’m proud and feel lucky that I have a chance to play in an event like this. It’s like an accident that I’m here,” said a smiling Phachara.
“I didn’t expect to get a chance to play in a Major so soon in my career. If I make the cut here, I’ll be happy. If I don’t make the cut, I’m also happy. Only the best players are here at The Open.”
The Thai whizz kid certainly didn’t earn his place at The Open by accident.
The youngster finished an impressive sixth at a star-laden Thailand Golf Championship – a designated Open Qualifying Series event – last December where he beat the likes of Ryder Cup stars Martin Kaymer, Nicholas Colsaerts and Bubba Watson in the Asian Tour event.
With a first name that means ‘diamond’, his prodigious game has sparkled to catch the eye of many golf fans and players. In July, 2013, he became the youngest golfer at 14 years old to win a professional tournament in his native Thailand and early last year, he became the youngest to win on the Asian Development Tour.
Phachara’s presence at Royal Troon for the year’s third Major has attracted keen media interests with sports networks Fox Sports and NBC conducting interviews with the Thai.
“I’m feeling happy. I want to have my best time and play my best every day. I think links course is harder than the courses in Thailand as it’s really tough. But I’ll play Thai-style this week,” he laughed.
“I’m looking to have fun when I’m on the golf course. If I put pressure on myself, I won’t play well.”
He feels comfortable playing in chilly conditions and started working with compatriot Kiradech Aphibarnrat’s coach recently to widen his array of shots in hope of tackling the Scottish links.
“I’ve practiced both hitting the low shots and also the high shots which you need when the wind is with you,” said Phachara.
“It’s a tough golf course. But I think my bunker play, chipping and putting are my strong parts. I don’t want to get too worried about the obstacles here. I will try to relax and hopefully play well.”
Phachara shrugged off an inquisitor’s suggestion of winning this week, saying it’s “not good luck”. However, the youngster subsequently displayed his growing maturity.
“I’m not thinking about winning Majors right now. I lack experience, it’s not the time to think about winning Majors,” he said.
“But later in my career, yes, I want to win Major titles. This week is my learning experience. If make cut, I’ll be the youngest boy to make the cut this week. I hope other young Thai boys will also take the step and get the chance to play in a Major.”
With England’s Luke Donald being his inspiration, Phachara turned pro at a tender age before turning 15, saying that it was the best way to get better in the game.
“I wanted to improve my game quickly. I want to be the best that I can be. If I stayed on as an amateur, I wouldn’t improve. I wanted to play as a pro as there is halfway cuts and you earn prize money which is challenging. It’s more fun to play against the pros,” he said with another laugh.