Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee regained his PGA TOUR Champions card by finishing tied second in the Qualifying Tournament (Final Stage) at TPC Tampa Bay on Friday.
The Asian golf legend closed with a final round of 4-under 67 to finish three shots behind medallist Rob Labritz, who fired a bogey-free 64 to top the class with his 17-under 267 total.
David Branshaw carded a 68 to finish alongside Thongchai while Roger Rowland and Tom Gillis are also exempt into open, full-field events for the 2022 PGA TOUR Champions season after finishing fourth and fifth. Thongchai and Branshaw shared runner-up honours at 14-under before the Thai birdied the first playoff hole (No. 10) to earn the No. 2 spot.
“I performed well this week,” Thongchai said. “I’m putting very well. Everything is better than it was earlier this year. Hopefully I can keep it going.”
Two years ago, Thongchai earned his playing rights on PGA TOUR Champions from Qualifying School but the Covid-19 pandemic dashed his hopes of performing well in the over-50 circuit as he missed a large portion of the 2020-21 season due to travel restrictions that kept him in Thailand. He did finish strongly at the end of the recent season with two successive top-10 finishes.
“It feels great. I played a solid round, was solid all week and I’ve now got back my TOUR card. Hopefully next year will be a lot better than this year. Covid affected everything and shut things down. It was very difficult for everyone.
“In my last two tournaments, I finished top-5 and top-10 and it brough my confidence back. I worked very hard before coming over here. It’s difficult to get the five cards and I’m happy I did it. I want to thank my family for their support as I’ve been in the U.S for the past seven months.”
Trailing by one entering the final round, Labritz, a club professional, was on form to surge to the top of the leaderboard.
“I’ve been envisioning this happening. And it did, which is crazy,” Labritz said after achieving his dream of 15 years. “It shows the power of the mind. I’m beyond the moon. I’m almost speechless. I’ve been waiting for an opportunity like this, to know that my golf game held up.”
After opening with four consecutive pars in the final round, Labritz birdied seven of his next 10 holes before closing with four pars. Labritz, who turned 50 on May 31, advanced to Final Stage by finishing runner-up at the First Stage Qualifier at Buckhorn Springs last month in Valrico, Florida.
Players who finished sixth to 30th at Q-School are eligible to play in open qualifiers in 2022. Amongst them is Korean Charlie Wi who carded a 72 to finish T17.