The Beast From The East

You compliment Thaworn Wiratchant on having had the best of 2012 seasons and he stops you in your tracks.
“Not yet,” he laughs.
At the age of 45, this former caddie is out to do as he last did in 2004 in winning the Asian Order of Merit. If he can pull it off, he would be as Vijay Singh, Greg Norman and Colin Montgomerie in having won an Order of Merit in his 40s. For the record, Singh won the PGA Tour money list at the age of 40, 41 and again at 45.
With five events to come, Wiratchant is around $60,000 ahead of his rivals after a season embracing three wins. The last of them was at the Hero Indian Open where he defeated Scotland’s Richie Ramsay in a play-off.
Bubba Watson is one professional who buttons his polo shirt up oddly high and Wiratchant is another. In Wiratchant’s case, what lies beneath is the heart of a Thai warrior and a heavy gold necklace. Both, he says, play their part in how he goes about his golfing business.
With regard to the necklace, he reaches into his shirt and hauls out a piece of jewellery of many parts. There are three Buddhas, several large and precious stones and a small phial of meadow grass. Each piece serves its own purpose but, collectively, they come together to bring him good luck and to protect him from danger.
Wiratchant’s interpreter steps in to help the golfer to explain how he prays before the start of every round. And how, if he feels angry after a poor shot, he will think about the necklace – and maybe touch it – and feel a new surge of strength.
Like most Thai men, Wiratchant spent time in a monastery when he was 21. The meditation skills he learned then are the ones he uses for the various contempla¬tive sessions which punctuate his day. He does not need quiet surrounds; he can find peace in the busiest of airports – or even in the throbbing Starbucks at Mis¬sion Hills GC in Shenzhen, China.
Yet, in spite of all of the above, he is not the confident soul in a global context – we met in Starbucks during the WGC-HSBC Champions – that he is in his own back yard.
Throughout this interview, he kept looking across at his young friend, Prom Meesawat. The latter gave some encouraging nods and winks and joined in with Wiratchant’s merriment when the senior Thai described his golf swing – he has his hands directly above his head at the top – as his strongest suit.
He knows precisely how unorthodox an action it is but points to how, since it has served him well since amateur days, he has never been inclined to make changes.
Where he is at his best is with his chipping and putting – two things he practised endlessly as a small boy. His father was among the hundreds of on-course workers at Royal Bangkok and, since the family lived in a hut on the edge of the complex, Thaworn was able to sneak out with a wedge and a putter without drawing too much attention to himself.
Though, as Jeev Milkha Singh says, “Thaworn plays week-in, week-out and never stops fighting.” He has altered his approach somewhat since he turned 40. Before, he would put just too much pressure on himself. Today, he practises and prepares harder than ever but stresses that his first objective is to enjoy each day’s play and to accept whatever the result might be.
He gives generously to Thai children’s charities and to his wider family, while he constantly reminds himself how lucky he is with his golfing life.
He does not have another – and he does not want one. In truth, he is en¬grossed in his golf to a point which makes Tiger, Rory and the rest look like part-timers. When he is back at home, he does not confine his golf club visits to working on his game. He is there to talk golf with his friends and to eat all his meals.
At times, his wife will join him for nine holes which have absolutely nothing to do with any desire to hone her game. Her hus¬band says, cheerfully, that these outings are just about the only opportunities she gets to talk to him about everyday affairs.
The situation is unlikely to change, for Wiratchant says that he plans to play golf every day for the rest of his life while winning a senior major along the way. But for now, it is all about the 2012 Asian Order of Merit.
Thomas Bjorn, after playing with Wiratchant at Mission Hills, shook his head in mingled admiration and disbelief at the Asian player’s on-course craft.
“Anyone who has any interest in how the game is played could learn a lot from him,” maintained the Dane.
“If ever there were a player who epitomised that old saying, ‘It’s not how, it’s how many’, its Thaworn.”

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