Thongchai Jaidee becomes first Thai winner on Champions Tour

Veteran professional golfer Thongchai Jaidee became the first Thai to win on the PGA’s Champions Tour, formerly known as the senior PGA tour, scoring a victory at the American Family Insurance Championship in Wisconsin last weekend.

Thongchai, a former paratrooper with Royal Thai Army’s Special Forces, enthralled an audience that included baseball Hall-of-Famer Derek Jeter and former football superstar Brett Favre who participated in a celebrity round at the tournament. It was his competitors whom the Thai most impressed.

“I think he is the first paratrooper to win on tour as well,” said Madison’s Jerry Kelly who was in contention on the last day. “I think he is awesome and a really great guy.”

Thongchai won by one stroke, carding a 4-under-par 68 in the final round for a tournament total 14-under-par 202 at the University Ridge Golf Club in Madison. The 52-year-old is the only Thai to have played in all four PGA major championships and has eight European Tour and 13 Asian Tour victories.

Thongchai had not competed in the 2020–21 season due to international travel limitations during the pandemic, so he had to go back to “qualifying school” in December last year to earn the right to be qualified to play.

“He deserves it after what he went through and the tour taking his exemption away a little bit. That is a lot of fortitude that he is showing coming back from something like that and saying, well, this is the way I have to do it, I have to get my exemption back,” Kelly said.

Thongchai, who began playing golf at the relatively late age of 16, nearly lost his lead when he bogeyed the 16th hole on Sunday but came back with a birdie on 17 to seal the win. He said the victory meant a lot to him.

“This is a very big thing for me,” Thongchai said. “The game has changed. Now I am very, very happy to be on tour.”

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