By THE NATION
Following a successful 2019 highlighted by four victories in Asia and breaking into the top-50 of the Official World Golf Ranking, the 24-year-old Thai is keeping his feet on the ground as he charts his rise under the guidance of renowned swing coach Pete Cowen.
The baby-faced Thai believes he has plenty to do when it comes to competing against the world’s best golfers, which he discovered the hard way during the PGA TOUR’s Asian swing last October.
“I’m very excited to play in these big tournaments. I’ve always watched them on TV and playing against these players, I just love it. You’re playing the best in the world and you put yourself in there. I just want to see how much different I am to the best and knowing how much more I need to improve,” said Jazz, who is presently ranked 39th in the world.
After finishing at the opposite end of the leaderboards at THE CJ CUP @ NINE BRIDGES in Korea and ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP in Japan, Jazz was reminded of the playing gap between him and the PGA TOUR’s best. He then sought the advice from Cowen who gave him a rap on the knuckles.
“These guys are so good. The course set up is hard but they handled it. I was almost last at THE CJ CUP and I talked to Pete. He’s very direct … and in not the exact words, he said I needed to get my head out of my backside. He said you’re here to compete and don’t look at this and that, and work on your game. You’ve come here to play … don’t get star-struck,” recalled Jazz of his conversation with his swing coach.
“I also told him the guys were hitting certain kind of shots and he said I wasn’t ready to hit those shots as my technique is not there yet. So he gave me some more techniques to work on and I’ve worked hard at it ever since.”
From a T65 in Korea, Jazz improved to T57 in Japan before going on to post a commendable T14 at the WGC-HSBC Champions in China which was his first WGC appearance. Upon his return to the Asian Tour, the Thai ran away with the last two tournaments of the season by five-shot margins following matching 23-under-par winning totals. He closed both tournaments with weekend rounds of 62-65 and 60-65.
“Pete has been the main reason for my success. He has given me a lot of direction, tells me what I need to do and what I need to work on. There’s a direction now and we’re committed to working on it. There is a plan to improve,” said Jazz, the reigning Asian Tour No. 1.
“I know I’m not there yet. People say ‘Jazz you’re so good now, you’re No. 1 on the Asian Tour’ but to compete week in week out with the best in the world, I know I need to step up in every part of my game. I’m learning to be mentally strong but I’m not there yet. When I play with the guys on a different Tour, it’s a different level. I think it’s the fear of not knowing, which I have. Not knowing what’s going to happen, not knowing what I’m going to shoot today or even what the first shot will be like. Some guys don’t have that. If you don’t have that fear, everything will be easier. You just hit it here, another shot there and make the putt. If you don’t make that putt, you’ll make par. It’s something I’m working on. I’m not close to being there yet and when I see the major winners and the top players, they don’t worry when they step onto the tee. There’s no fear in them.”
Jazz has started 2020 with solid top-five finishes at the Hong Kong Open and SMBC Singapore Open where he finished behind winner Matt Kuchar and Justin Rose. His appearance at the US$10.5 million WGC-Mexico Championship, which starts at Club de Golf Chapultepec on Thursday, will be the first of several PGA TOUR starts in the next few weeks. He will also tee up in the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard, THE PLAYERS Championship and WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.
With other opportunities lined up including the majors, he hopes to take the same route as close friend Kiradech Aphibarnrat, who earned his PGA TOUR card through the non-member category in 2018. “I have a chance to be there this year. I have some points on the FedExCup (list) now. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it’s not meant to be yet. My time will come.”
While he is keen to take his career up a notch, Jazz knows he must remain patient – something he hopes his experience in a Buddhist monastery will help him. “In the monastery, you take a step back from life, from golf, from everything and you put things in a wider perspective,” said Jazz.
“You see a bigger picture. Sometimes when you play in a golf tournament, when there’s no way out, you need to see a different angle and that’s taught me a lot. Being in the monastery prepared me for some things in my life,” he said.