Thongchai Jaidee wrote a slice of golf history by becoming the first Thai golfer to win on PGA Tour Champions following a one-stroke victory over Tom Pernice Jr of the US at the American Family Insurance Championship.
Tied for the overnight lead, the 52-year-old Thongchai signed off with a 4-under 68 for a winning total of 14-under 202 at University Ridge — The University of Wisconsin Golf Course to earn his maiden victory on US soil in what was his 19th career start on PGA TOUR Champions.
Jerry Kelly and 36-hole co-leader Miguel Angel Jimenez were amongst four players who finished tied third on Sunday.
“I’m really very happy with the tournament here. Sometimes everything has to be perfect, you can’t expect you can win… I’m very happy," said a jubilant Thongchai, who had earned a place in this week’s tournament after finishing T10 in Iowa last weekend.
With his lowest 54-hole score on PGA Tour Champions, Thongchai became the first international winner of the American Family Insurance Championship which dates back to 2016 and rose to 12th place on the Charles Schwab Cup standing. He is now exempt on the over-50 circuit through the end of 2023 and also earned a spot in the 2023 Mitsubishi Electric Championship in Hualalai.
Thongchai bounced back from a bogey on the par-5, 16th hole with a birdie on the par-3, 17th and then closed out for victory with a closing par. It turned out to be a gutsy bogey on 16 as he rolled in a long putt from just off the green for his six.
“Great tournament here," said Thongchai, who regained his PGA Tour Champions card last December by finishing runner-up in Qualifying School.
“I played solid, solid, solid. I took one mistake on 16, hit the tree and lost the ball. We make good bogey and try to get my plan. We have 215 yards for my fourth shot, I hit 5-iron to the back of green. I think good putt from there to make bogey. Holed a good putt on 17 and the game changed. 17 was unbelievable. I think my confidence was in the putting, that’s what helped me a lot."
Rated as one of Asia’s greatest golfers, Thongchai, who was in the Thai army and trained as a paratrooper before turning professional at the age of 30, holds multiple wins in Asia and has won eight times on the DP World Tour. He also became the first Thai golfer to play in the 2015 Presidents Cup but did not earn a PGA TOUR card during his heyday, the honour going to Kiradech Aphibarnrat instead.
“I would like to say thank you to my family, sponsors and all the people’s support in Thailand. I think it’s very difficult to be on tour," he said.
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