Golf history writing schoolboy from Thailand: Ratchanon ‘TK’ Chantananuwat

But Ratchanon isn’t like most kids his age – he’s already a storied amateur golfer playing against some of the best golf pros.
In April – five weeks after his 15th birthday – he made international headlines when he became the youngest male player to win a major tour, winning the $750,000 Trust Golf Asian Mixed Cup in his native Thailand.

This month he’s studying for important biology and economics exams, a stress he had to juggle while representing his country at the 31st Southeast Asian Games (SEA) in Vietnam.

It’s a balancing act of daunting proportions, but an unfazed Ratchanon has something to prove.

“Sometimes it gets a little difficult, but I enjoy the challenge,” he told CNN. “I love doing well in both and proving all doubters wrong.

“Apparently you can’t be good at school as an athlete. I’m trying to change that.”

The Asian Tour win marked a new high in the young career of one of the sport’s brightest young stars. Ratchanon has enjoyed a sensational rise since becoming the youngest player in All Thailand Golf Tour history to make the cut in August 2020 aged just 13 years and four months.

And incredibly, he came tantalizingly close to winning an Asian Tour event earlier, finishing third in his first international pro event at the Singapore International in January.

origin story

Ratchanon’s origin story of golf reads like a comic. After starting to play with plastic bats and balls at the age of three, TK – a nickname related to his parents’ initials – finished last in his first tournament at the age of four.

“I saw the boy who got the trophy and I got really, really jealous,” Ratchanon recalls. “I didn’t know why I didn’t get one, so I was really pissed. Then my dad had to explain to me how he won, so he got the trophy.”

And so, after a month of intense training under the tutelage of a similarly competitive, golf-loving father, he got his hands on the trophy on the next try.

At his first Junior World event a year later, motivational messages were written on the chairs at every tee. “Winners never quit and quitters never win” was a motto that exemplified Ratchanon’s mentality and work ethic.

His father acts as his caddie as well as a third coach, bringing in extra hours with his son to build on the lessons from two other coaches. On non-school days, the already intense exercise program escalates even further, with the youngster spending between seven and nine hours on the course honing his craft.

Warned about exhaustion, Ratchanon has started taking half a day off every now and then – spending the time with tutoring, physical therapy or fitness – but shrugs off any hint of burnout.

“I don’t see it happening. I love golf. I love to train,” said Ratchanon.

“Yes, it’s tough – it hurts and it takes a lot of discipline, but even just two months of super hard work just to get that one good shot or just a good result, I think it’s paying off for me. “

example

And who better to oversee Ratchanon’s rise than compatriot Thongchai Jaidee, an Asian Tour legend with 20 pro wins to his credit. The 52-year-old icon has been helping the youngster with various aspects of his game since they first met in 2019.

When Ratchanon set out to learn his hero’s spinning chip, the two spent the next three weeks practicing the technique six hours a day.

“He helped me so much with my game. He’s a great guy,” Ratchanon said. “I think he just enjoys helping Thai golfers develop the future of Thai golf.”

Jaidee during the Chubb Classic at Tiburon Golf Club in Florida in February.

Thongchai also helped shape the teenager’s mental side of the game, helping him implement a routine to overcome dips in performance under pressure. Now Ratchanon has a method he can use in big moments: slow down, take a sip of water and swing “without hesitation”.

When asked about the pressure of Teen Prodigy Day and joining forces with the sporting elite, the 15-year-old simply replies, “I’m enjoying it.”

“I don’t feel pressured … I’m not afraid to play with good people,” he said.

“Nobody really pushed it on me and I’m very fortunate to have a lot of good people around me who will help, support me and keep me going.”

Stay in school

It’s an attitude that helps Ratchanon take things one step at a time. Eager not to rush the leap into pro sports, he focuses like a laser on graduating from school.

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Ratchanon already dreams of studying physics at a college in the USA and doing his golf splits on the side. He strives to follow the example of Colin Morikawa and Patty Tavatanakit of Thailand, who graduated from the University of California, Berkeley and UCLA respectively before they tasted great fame.

“I’ve seen a lot of Thai players who turned pro early, but now a lot of people know that going to college is worth it,” he said.

“If we go pro, that’s our life. We cannot really turn back.”