Thai No 1 Kiradech Aphibarnrat has competed on American soil more than 30 times in his career … but it is the next one that will give him the most pride and joy.
When the 29-year-old arrives for the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines Golf Club in San Diego from January 24 to 27, it will mark the first PGA Tour start in 2019 for Thailand’s first golfer to hold a qualifying card.
“I’m very excited as I’ll be playing in the tournament through my PGA Tour status,” said Kiradech.
“I’m not in the field through my world ranking … I earned my card last year and I’m looking forward to my first year on it. It feels like a new world to me.”
The burly Thai enjoyed a stellar campaign last season, when top-five finishes at the World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship and World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play helped him earn his tour place card through the non-member category.
He also finished T13 at the Memorial Tournament, T15 at the U.S. Open and T30 at The Players Championship.
Kiradech couldn’t have planned his 2019 start any better.
As an aspiring amateur golfer, he finished T3, T12 and T8 in the Junior World Golf Championships at Torrey Pines in the 15-17 age-group from 2005 to 2007 respectively.
He also won the 13-14 age-group twice in 2003-2004 at Rancho San Diego Golf Club.
“It’ll be good to play in Torrey Pines again. It’s like the place where I started my amateur golf career. To go back and play there will be fun. If I can finish well at the Farmers Insurance Open, that would be a good start and help build my momentum and confidence going into the new year,” said Kiradech.
“I’ve got good memories as a kid playing in the San Diego area. I competed against guys like Tony Finau, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day and now I’m going back there to play against the same players. I didn’t imagine this happening when I was growing up.”
Kiradech and his wife, Tunyatorn, have found a home in Orlando, which is a short drive from fellow Thai LPGA Tour stars Ariya and Moriya Jutanugarn.
He will practise at Lake Nona Golf and Country Club, which many players are based at, including his close friend Byeonghun An of Korea, Ian Poulter of England and Sweden’s Henrik Stenson.
“We are five minutes away from the sisters. I think it’s never easy to leave home [Thailand], you’ve got to deal with the different culture, different kind of food and being near them will be better for my game and family.
“My wife will help cook Thai food for sure and we’ll hang out with the sisters when we’re all in Orlando,” said Kiradech, who holds four European Tour wins and was the 2013 Asian Tour Order of Merit champion.
A T4 finish at the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions in Shanghai and T33 at the CIMB Classic in Malaysia, which formed part of the early 2018-19 PGA TOUR Season last October, has given Kiradech a head-start in the FedExCup points race where he currently sits in 58th position.
“It was nice to have a good start and there won’t be so much pressure as I’ve got some FedExCup points already. I hope to keep my card for a second season, which should then make things a bit easier. There are a lot of great players on the PGA Tour and I need to be consistent, scramble better and make more birdies to compete against the world-class players,” said the world No 37.
“The biggest goal is to win on tour this year – win for myself, for my family and my country. It won’t be easy but I have worked hard over the last few years and I’ve given myself some chances. I’m not far off from winning,” added the Thai, who has also placed top priority to fight his way into the International Team to face the United States in the Presidents Cup at The Royal Melbourne Golf Club, Australia in December.