Bangkok, Thailand: Panuphol Pittayarat will make an emotional return to the immaculately manicured fairways of the Thai Country Club this week to defend his Thailand Open title.
In a dramatic finale last year, Panuphol eked out a one-stroke victory at the award-winning Bangkok layout, a Golf Course Facility Member of the Asian Golf Industry Federation.
In so doing, Panuphol, affectionately known by his nickname of ‘Coconut’, became only the fifth Thai player to have his name inscribed on the trophy, following in the footsteps of Suthep Meesawat (1991), Boonchu Ruangkit (1992 and 2004), Prayad Marksaeng (2013) and Rattanon Wannasrichan (2017).
On a course with which he is familiar, Panuphol is now setting his sights on becoming the first Thai to retain the title.
It will, however, be a tall order in the US$300,000 full-field event, co-sanctioned by the Asian Tour and the Thailand Golf Association, that will feature 144 players from 20 countries. Among them are 65 Thais and 40 Tour champions.
American John Catlin, who claimed three victories in 2018, will be among the favourites in what will be his first Asian Tour event since May.
The 28-year-old Catlin, the 2018 Players’ Player of the Year, said: “I am excited to get back to the Asian Tour. Thailand has been my home for three years now so to be back for the national Open feels awesome. It’s been a great year for me, earning starts on the PGA Tour and the European Tour.
“I have gained a lot of confidence from the half-way cuts that I made. There are a lot of great players on the Asian Tour and to win three times last year showed me that the work my coach and I have put in over the last five years is the right stuff.”
Other notable players set to feature in the 2019 Thailand Open include newly-crowned Asian Tour champion Suradit Yongcharoenchai of Thailand, Indians SSP Chawrasia and Shiv Kapur, who claimed his first Asian Tour victory at the Thai Country Club in 2005, as well as Indonesian Rory Hie and Miguel Carballo of Argentina, who have both secured their maiden wins on Tour this season.
Players will have added motivation to do well as the Thailand Open kick-starts the 2019/20 Panasonic Swing, a ranking based on an aggregate points race that spans five events with the final top-three players chasing a share of a lucrative bonus pool.
Past champions of the Thailand Open include Indian Jyoti Randhawa, China’s Liang Wen-chong and Chinese Taipei legends Hsieh Min-nan and Lu Liang-huan.
The Thailand Open is the seventh full-field event on the 2019 Asian Tour schedule. It is the Tour’s first stop in Thailand this season.