Young Thais in close encounter with Tiger
Young amateur golfers' dreams of watching the world stars in the flesh rarely come true. But those dreams turned to reality when ThaiBev handed local youngsters a chance to see their idols in action at the CIMB Classic in Malaysia last week.
As the official beverage partner of the tournament for the past three years, Chang led a trip for amateurs to the Mines Resort and Golf Club, where they experienced the likes of Tiger Woods, world No 1 Jason Dufner and 2011 champion Bo van Pelt of the United States battling for supremacy between October 25 and 28.
Sorrakrit Lathitham, ThaiBev marketing manager, said it had signed a five-year deal worth over Bt150 million to be the only Thai sponsor for the region's sole PGA Tour event.
The US$6.1-million tournament was eventually won by American Nick Watney with a superb 22-under-par 262, for the US$1.3 million winner's cheque. Forty-eight elite golfers were invited to display their expertise in the tournament, 30 from the PGA Tour, 10 from Asian Tour and eight from sponsor's exemptions.
Woods finished four shots behind for joint fourth place, while fellow American van Pelt signed off a stroke behind the winner, and 2010 champion Trevor Immelman of South Africa settled for 31st with a 13-under 275.
A resurgent Thaworn Wiratchant and Prom Meesawat were the only Thai representatives in this year's episode. Fresh from winning the Hero Indian Open, his 15th trophy on Asian Tour, Thaworn had a sluggish start before rebounding to finish with a 271 for tied 16th place. Prom hit a total of 277 for 37th.
"Next year will make this tournament even more competitive as players can earn world ranking points. It should attract more stars,'' said Sorrakit.
Surapol Utintu, executive director ThaiBev marketing, leads the Thai Talent project, which gave lucky amateurs and juniors free trips to Kuala Lumpur via three channels: nine came from the Chang Golf Day, eight from the Chang TAT Thailand AM and three from the Chang Junior PGA Golf Clinic.
"The juniors had the chance to follow famous pro golfers and observe their game from close range, which should benefit their careers in the future," said Surapol.
But brothers Chalisa and Thaya Limpipolpaibul, from the Chang Junior PGA Golf Clinic 2012, were luckiest of all after being given a once-in-a-lifetime experience to follow the pairing of Tiger Woods and Ben Crane. The American-Thai is the youngsters' idol.
"He's been my No 1 player since I was five and I have been following his results ever since. Seeing him play so close, I've learnt a lot from him technique-wise. No wonder he has so many fans all over the world,'' said younger brother Thaya.
"I got the chance to shake hands with Tiger and got a photo with him. My name was also announced at the first tee. This is the best experience of my entire life."
Rising star Amarin Kraivixien from the Thai Talent programme said he was impressed by the skills and professionalism of Americans Brian Harman and Jeff Overton, whom he was following.
"I was so impressed by the smoothness and continuity of their game. That's why they hit a lot of birdies and play so consistently. Also, they could handle the mental pressure quite well. I'm grateful that Thaibev gave me this opportunity."