Thailand’s golf star Kiradech Aphibarnrat thinks he has found the secret to a winning breakthrough on the PGA TOUR – he needs to get out of his own way.
The 29-year-old Asian strongman tees up in the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach Golf Links on Thursday feeling confident he can secure a maiden victory on American soil very soon.
A knee injury suffered during the Masters Tournament in April is still causing minor concerns but the burly Thai who is loved by fans for his grip it-and-rip it style of play is prepared to battle on ahead of the year’s third major.
“The game is feeling better and better. Swing feels good, results are better and I can see improvements,” said Kiradech, who is ranked 61st on the FedExCup Points List.
“Everything is almost back to natural. The right knee still disturbs me a little bit. I don’t feel comfortable when I need to bend my knees like when I’m reading putts or hitting bunker shots. However, it doesn’t hurt when I’m swinging the club. I have to build up the muscles around that knee,” said Kiradech.
A former Asian Tour No. 1 and four-time European Tour winner, Kiradech is seeking the ultimate prize of winning on the PGA TOUR which no Thai golfer has achieved the feat. In his first full season in America, he has been on the fringe of contention on several occasions and admitted he did not handle those situations well.
“To get my first win, I need to get used to being in contention. Every time I’m in contention, I start thinking there are so many great players on the leaderboard and I don’t feel like myself. I then put too much in my head. It’s not me playing golf and I don’t play my normal golf,” said Kiradech, who has three top-5s this season.
“I go into tournaments now with ambition. I know we’re good enough to win. Before I was thinking of making cuts. Now I want to make history.”
In his attempt for a breakthrough, Kiradech will treat the U.S. Open like any other week as he chases FedExCup points to improve his ranking and also Official World Golf Ranking points to boost his chances of playing in the Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne Golf Club in Australia this December. He currently ranks 18th on the International Team points list, trailing eighth-ranked Jason Day by 25.54 points which is the cut-off for automatic selection.
“I’ll treat it like another tournament. Previously, I always think the majors are big and I have to do well and prepare well but it only put additional pressure on me. I’ve got to treat it like it’s another golf tournament. There are four majors a year and I think I’ll be playing in many more,” he said.
He has played once previously on Pebble Beach, which also hosts the AT&T National Pro-Am, and remembers he endured a forgetful week.
“I played there about five years ago and the weather was bad and it was cold, rainy and windy. I didn’t enjoy my time then. Hopefully it will be better and I’ll spend a bit more time on the course to know it well,” he said.
“It’s a difficult course and we can expect a U.S. Open set-up. I don’t really like tough conditions but you have no choice as you’re competing in a major. Everyone knows it’s going to be tough and I’m just going to play the hole that’s in front of me.”
Kiradech has become a big fan of the new PGA TOUR Schedule which now features one main highlight each month starting with the TOUR’s flagship event, THE PLAYERS Championship in March, Masters Tournament in April, PGA Championship in May, U.S. Open in June, The Open Championship in July and the FedExCup Playoffs, comprising of three tournaments, in August and rewards the FedExCup champion with a whopping US$15 million in bonus pay out.
“I like the new schedule … one big event a month and it comes one after another. We get ready for a big stretch and then have the opportunity to rest up a bit at end of the year. I think it’s very good,” said Kiradech.