Natipong lays down THE LAW
THAMMASAT University law student Natipong Srithong carded an unblemished 64 to grab a one-stroke lead over countrymen Jazz Janewattanananond, Sarit Suwannarut and India’s Chikkaranggappa S after round one of the US$300,000 Thailand Open at the Thai Country Club in Chachoengsao yesterday.
Despite his practice time limited by having to sit his final law exam last Saturday, the 24-year-old played a pressure-free round with three birdies each on the front and back nines to surge atop the leader board of the first Asian Tour event in Thailand this year.
“I’m surprised I played so well as I have been busy with my exams. I’m so happy now as I have finally graduated,” said the Nakhon Pathom-based player, who has just completed six years of study to earn his Bachelor’s degree.
A member of the 2013 SEA Games gold medal-winning team, Natipong opted to follow a family tradition by studying law at the prestigious university. He carried around textbooks on tour to keep up with his studies – which helps explain why he is still looking for his first title since winning the Asian Tour in Manila in 2015.
“I didn’t start the year well but then I finished second in China [the Asia-Pacific Classic in Zhengzhou last month] and got a confidence boost. Now that my school life is over, I can concentrate fully on golf,” added Natipong, who is determined to pursue a career out on the fairways rather than in court.
“This is still too early for me to think of winning,” he said of yesterday’s round. “I need to stick to my game plan by hitting the fairways and the greens.”
Jazz, 22, from Hua Hin, also had a flawless round and is looking for his second Tour win after last year’s Bangladesh Open.
“The course is a bit more difficult than last year with firmer greens, the roughs are up and it’s windy,” said the Thai young gun, one of several strong local contenders this week.
Chikkaranggappa, an eight-time tour winner, surged into contention with a brilliant back nine, shooting five birdies before finishing with a bogey that saw him settle at joint second. Thai teenager Sarit, who turned pro only a few months ago, also had six birdies against one bogey.
Nattawat Suvajanakorn and Poom Saksansin, Natipong’s teammates in the 2013 Myanmar SEA Games, followed a stroke behind on 6ุุ6 for tied fifth in a group including Australia’s Adam Blyth and Terry Pilkadaris.
“I had a good feeling today. I hit plenty of fairways and greens to put myself in good positions to shoot low scores. I hope to maintain this form tomorrow,” said Nattawat, whose best so far is a top-40 finish in this year’s Bangladesh Open.
Defending champion Rattanon Wannasrichan opened his campaign with a 69.