Highly-rated Danthai Boonma of Thailand proved to be a potential rising star in the game when he fired a bogey-free six-under-par 65 in the opening round of the Asian Tour Qualifying School final stage presented by Sports Authority of Thailand on Wednesday.
Danthai, a double South East Asia (SEA) Games gold medalist in 2012, nailed six birdies to share the lead with Japan’s Ryosuke Kinoshita, Australian duo Paul Spargo and Lee Jun-seok, who all played at the par-71 Springfield Royal Golf Club.
2014 Asian Tour Qualifying School winner Akinori Tani of Japan, who played at the par-72 Imperial Lakeview Golf Club, stayed one shot back in fifth place with seven other players including India’s Chikka S, Australian Gavin Flint and Korean duo Kim Do-hoon and Park Jun-sub.
A total of 231 players teed off in the all-important Final Stage where the top-40 and ties will earn an Asian Tour card for the 2015 season. The first two rounds of the Final Stage will be held at Imperial Lakeview and Springfield Royal. After two days, the top-100 and ties will progress to the final two rounds which will be played at Springfield Royal.
Danthai made a blistering start to his professional career when he finished tied-fourth at the King’s Cup last November. He had decided to turned professional earlier that week.
“I took home a lot of positives after King’s Cup because that was my very first professional event. I’ve only played three tournaments since turning professional but I’m happy with how I am doing so far,” said the 18-year-old Thai.
Playing in his first attempt at the Asian Tour Qualifying School, Danthai received several encouraging remarks from his compatriots on Tour, including 2013 Order of Merit Champion, Kiradech Aphibarnrat.
“I want to gain more playing experience. A lot of Thai players have done really well on the Asian Tour and they have been encouraging me to come and try it out here. Kiradech was one of them. He told me to come here and gain more playing experiences which will definitely help in my game,” added Danthai.
Chikka, who is among 16 Indians in the field, was clearly determined to erase the heartbreak of missing out on his Tour card by one shot at the Qualifying School last year.
“Missing by a mere one shot last year really taught me a lot. It actually made me a stronger person. I learnt a lot from my experience last year. I am just going to focus on what I need to do this time round and make sure I don’t put myself in that kind of position again,” said Chikka, who mixed his card with seven birdies against two bogeys.
Despite missing out on his Tour card last season, Chikka enjoyed a relatively good season in 2014 when he claimed a total of three victories on home soil, which includes a maiden Asian Development Tour (ADT) win.
Chinese Taipei’s Lee Chieh-po, who finished second in the first stage of the Qualifying School at Imperial Lakeview last week, rode on his recent good run of form as he stayed two shots off the pace.
“I just turned professional this month so I’m trying to take it easy. I played well last week so I’m feeling confident with my game. I thought the Asian Tour would be a good platform for me to build up my career so I will try my best to do well this week,” said the 20-year-old, who had won a professional tournament on his local tour when he was still an amateur two months ago.
One-time Asian Tour winner Daniel Chopra of Sweden signed for a 68 while 2006 Hong Kong Open winner José Manuel Lara of Spain shot 18 pars to sit in tied-70th place.
All Qualifying School entrants will be eligible to compete on the burgeoning ADT, which was inaugurated in 2010 as a gateway to the premier Asian Tour. The secondary circuit staged a record total of 21 tournaments in the 2014 season.
With the Olympic Games looming in 2016 where golf will be reintroduced as a medal sport, players in the region could earn their spots in Rio de Janeiro by earning Official World Golf Ranking points through the Asian Tour and ADT.