The old Thongchai Jaidee resurfaced on PGA TOUR Champions after a lapse of 14 months and the signs were ominous.
The 51-year-old Thai star finished tied 26th in the Mitsubishi Electric Classic at TPC Sugarloaf in Duluth, Georgia on Sunday but the manner in which he closed out the tournament gave him plenty of confidence and optimism for his golf future.
After struggling with an outward 40, Thongchai birdied five of the closing seven holes to ensure his first competitive appearance on U.S. soil since March 2012 ended on a high note.
“It was a good comeback on the back nine. I enjoyed being here,” said Thongchai.
“I struggled with my putting on the front. We played all right all week but I didn’t have enough time to practice as I arrived on Tuesday from Thailand and was jetlagged. The greens here are very difficult and I couldn’t get the speed right. There were firm and fast but with it being softer today, I had good chances on the back nine. I missed only a few greens and had two three-putts on 8 and 9.”
The former three-time Asian Tour No. 1 and eight-time winner on the European Tour is playing catch-up on PGA TOUR Champions. After earning his card by finishing a creditable second in Qualifying School in December 2019 courtesy of a final round 62, Thongchai went on to finish T29 and T52 in his first two events last March before COVID-19 shut down all sports across the globe.
He returned to Bangkok subsequently and opted to remain in his home country due to the pandemic restricting international travel. It unfortunately resulted in him missing the restart of PGA Tour Champions last July and prior to last week, he had already missed 16 tournaments, thus limiting the opportunities that he will have on the over-50 circuit for the remainder of 2021.
“I enjoy being on PGA TOUR Champions which is a good tour. I was stuck in Thailand due to COVID and tried to leave the country to play here but I couldn’t do it. The situation at home was difficult and we didn’t have any vaccine then but now that I‘ve got both my vaccines, I have more confidence and I hope to spend more time in the U.S,” he said.
Thongchai added that his next start will be the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Oklahoma from May 27-30, a venue which holds dear to his heart. The veteran Thai, who was a paratrooper and served in the army during his amateur days, knows every start must count to boost his position in the Champions re-rank category. He is also prepared to play Monday qualifiers to get into other Champions events should he be ineligible through his present status.
“At the moment, I’m not sure (about my schedule). There will be a re-rank and if I can’t get into tournaments, I will try to Monday qualify. I plan to hang around and to be here more,” said Thongchai, whose illustrious career also saw him become the first Thai to play in the Presidents Cup in 2015.
With an appearance in the Senior PGA, which will be his first major start as a Champions golfer, it will mark a full cycle in Thongchai’s illustrious career as his first major appearance was at Southern Hills when he made it into the 2001 U.S. Open through sectional qualifying. He finished tied 74th in what was the first of 32 career major appearances.
As the first Thai qualifier of the U.S. Open, Thongchai made global headlines that week after saying in a pre-tournament press conference that he opted to sleep on the floor of his US$200-a-night hotel room as the bed was “too soft.”
Twenty years on, he is prepared to toughen it out again to make his mark on PGA TOUR Champions.