Bangkok, Thailand: As a kid, Thongchai Jaidee dreamed of becoming a footballer, hoping that one day he would get into the Thai national team and play in the Olympics.
However, his plans were derailed after a freak accident in which a wooden skewer got lodged in his foot. His football career was at a premature end.
As he prepares to become an Olympian this week, 46-year-old Thongchai reflects on the curious twist of fate.
Instead of kicking a ball, the three-time Asian Tour number one will use his skills in getting a golf ball into a 4.25 inch-diameter hole in the least number of strokes in Rio de Janeiro. And he hopes to celebrate the occasion with an Olympic medal.
“In my life, I never thought golf would be played in the Olympics,” said Thongchai, who is the 39th ranked golfer in the world.
“I’m 47 this year and I’m looking forward to representing my country. It’s a proud moment in my career. The Olympics is the greatest sporting event in the world so I’m grateful to be a part of it. To be honest, I’m proud and excited to represent Thailand. If I do win a medal, it will be a plus but representing my country and Asia is what I’m really looking forward to.”
Growing up, Thongchai adored Brazilian football legend Pele but after the foot incident, he picked up golf as his wooden-structured home was next to a golf course with his first club being a makeshift three-iron head stuck onto a bamboo stick.
Thongchai developed into a top amateur golfer, winning numerous tournaments across the region. During that time, he served as a ranger in the Royal Thai Army, regularly making parachute drops and enduring survival training stints in the jungle.
It toughened him up for life as a professional golfer and only a year after giving up his amateur status, Thongchai hoisted his maiden Asian Tour title at the 2000 Korean Open.
His trophy cabinet now includes 12 other Asian Tour tournament trophies, three Order of Merit titles and four pieces of silverware won on European soil including the French Open last month. But an Olympic medal will have a special place if he can hit top form this week.
“I’ve won many events in Asia and Europe and I’ve played in all the Major tournaments. The only sporting event missing from my career is playing in the Olympics so it really ranks on top of my list,” said Thongchai.
“The goal is to win in any tournament which I’m playing in but if I do win a medal at the Olympics, it will be an entirely different story. When you win for your country, the feeling is definitely better than winning for yourself.”
As one of the richest sporting personalities now in Thailand, Thongchai, who started a Foundation and golf academy in his hometown of Lopburi some years ago to give back to the sport, has no regrets that fate led him to golf’s fairways to stardom.
While his focus will be on trying to deliver a medal for Thailand as golf returns to the Olympic fold after a lapse of 112 years, he will also be rooting for his other compatriots, especially the boxers, to shine in Rio de Janeiro.
“I remember in 2008, Somjit Jongjohor won the gold medal in boxing and that was a proud moment for us. We’ve won a few gold medals in boxing so that has been a good sport for us. Maybe golf will be a popular sport for us in the Olympics as well,” he said.
Lausanne, Switzerland: The International Golf Federation Board convened a virtual meeting yesterday focused on long-term strategic planning and progress toward next summer’s Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.