The remarkable career of Thongchai Jaidee
Thongchai Jaidee’s win in the French Open continued a remarkable career for a golfer who did not become a professional until he was aged 30.
This is in stark contrast to the trend of today when many golfers turn pro in their teens and the average winning age on the LPGA Tour is 21.
Jaidee’s win in the French Open in July made him the tournament’s oldest winner since it became part of the European Tour in 1972. Jaidee was aged 46 years and 238 days at the time of his victory.
The previous oldest winner of the tournament was Miguel Angel Jimenez. He was 46 years and 180 days when he won in 2010.
The main reason Jaidee did not become a professional golfer much earlier was because he was part of the military in his homeland of Thailand. He joined the Royal Thai Army in 1989 at the age of 20 and became a paratrooper.
As a child he lived in a wooden house which backed onto a golf course. He originally played soccer and represented his province but was injured when a wooden skewer became embedded in his foot.
During his recuperation from the injury he sneaked onto the army’s golf course behind his house, tied the discarded head of a five iron to a bamboo stick and started playing golf.
The French Open win earned Jaidee 583,000 euros (nearly $NZ900,000) and took his career earnings on the European Tour to 12 million euros (more than $NZ18 million).
It was his eighth win on the European Tour and he has now won on the tour for each of the last three years.
His first victory on the European Tour earned him a personal audience with Thailand’s former prime minister, who gave him a diplomatic passport to expedite his future ease of movement between countries on the European Tour.
The French Open win came at Jaidee’s 11th attempt, which included a second in 2014. He was a model of consistency on the par 71 course with scores of 67, 70, 68 and 68 to finish at 11 under par. He was four shots clear of his nearest rival.
“I know the golf course is fantastic,’’ Jaidee said after the win.
“I’ve been here many, many years and I think especially this week, it’s a special week for me to win the tournament out here.
“Sometimes you need one perfect week. You can’t do well every week. This week is my perfect week because I didn’t miss much. Anything I missed, I found I could lay up and make a good shot and make par and that’s it.’’