Thai veteran star Thongchai Jaidee will see his illustrious golf career take a full cycle when he tees up in the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Oklahoma starting on Thursday.
And at age 51, he is by no means finished just yet of his pursuit for more silverware on PGA TOUR Champions.
His appearance at Southern Hills this week for his senior major debut brings back fond memories of his first major appearance at the U.S. Open in 2001, which was also played at the Tulsa venue.
Then, he became the first Thai to qualify and play in all four rounds at the U.S. Open, finishing T74 which coincided with the start of a great career that would see him earn three Asian Tour Order of Merit crowns and eight European Tour titles.
“I was here 20 years ago and I recall enjoying myself and being excited being the first Thai to qualify for the U.S. Open. Looking back now, making the cut was one of my career highlights,” said Thongchai.
“It’s a bit different with this week being a senior major but it is still my dream to win a major championship, even if it is a senior major. My game feels okay and I know I have to do everything well on what is a good and difficult golf course.”
The Asian legend made his first start of 2021 on PGA TOUR Champions two weeks ago where he finished tied 26th in the Mitsubishi Electric Classic.
He is trying to make up for lost time after being grounded in Thailand for most of 2020 due to COVID-19 and missed 16 Champions tournaments after finishing second in Qualifying School.
Thongchai knows he can no longer spend countless of hours at the range or gym to hone his skills and physical fitness but thanks to modern technology, he reckons he can enjoy a fruitful career in the over-50 circuit.
“I think I have a good chance to win a major in my senior career. That’s my key goal. Of course I will need to play well and there are so many good players. I used to practice for like 10, 11 hours a day but I don’t do this now. I’m keeping my body healthy, putting in six to seven hours now and focusing on the short game and learning to keep my energy.”
One of his career regrets was not contending more often in the majors during his heyday, with a tie for 13th place at the 2009 Open Championship being his best finish in 32 major appearances.
“I tried hard to win a major but it wasn’t possible. I had a chance at the British Open in the year when Stewart Cink won (he finished four shots back). I remember the week being a poor putting performance by me as I had like five or six three putts then,” he said.
“I still enjoy competing, I enjoying playing golf and playing in tournaments. As we saw last week with Phil (Mickelson) winning the PGA, anything can happen in golf. These days, we have good equipment compared to 20 years ago and you can maintain your distances which gives me confidence to know that I can still compete.”
When Thongchai made his first appearance at Southern Hills all those years ago, he made global headlines by telling the assembled media that he had opted to sleep on the floor of his US$200-a-night hotel room as the bed was “too soft” to preserve his gingerly back. He is staying with his close friend this week.
“I’m getting older, so I’m sleeping on the bed now. Mike (his host) has made sure I’ve got a good and firm mattress and my back is much better these days.”