Thai rookie Kiradech Aphibarnrat rides high in game, life
From the Thai sky to the Augusta greens, Kiradech Aphibarnrat has had two months he won’t forget.
On Valentine’s Day, the 26-year-old was wed in a hot-air balloon. This week, he’s at the Masters Tournament for the first time.
“That was quite exciting,” he said. “It was a fun experience, when you’re up there in a hot-air balloon, when the wind takes it and you keep moving. It’s good fun. It was my first time – a little bit scary.”
Aphibarnrat wasn’t as fearful of the course. He played Tuesday with fellow Thai golfer Thongchai Jaidee, 46, who is playing in his fifth Masters.
“He’s the most experienced player. He helped me a lot,” Aphibarnrat said. “All the green information, I get it from him.”
Aphibarnrat, who qualified by finishing in the top 50 on the final Official World Golf Ranking for 2015, got to know the Masters while watching Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods.
“My first memory was watching the TV when Phil won and he made the putt to win,” Aphibarnrat said. “And Tiger chipping on 16, that was a great memory that I remember from this golf course.”
When Aphibarnrat played No. 16 for the first time, he had a spot to find at his favorite hole.
“I walked out right where Tiger’s chip was,” he said. “I tell you what, it’s not easy at all. You can’t imagine how he did that. You can’t imagine the line and the speed to match it.”
Aphibarnrat picked up golf because of his father. When his dad went to the range after work, Aphibarnrat followed.
“Golf is quite an interesting sport. Because soccer, basketball, everything, the ball is moving. You can kick. You can hit,” Aphibarnrat said. “But golf, the ball just sits in front of you. That is the most interesting thing for me.”
Family is important to Aphibarnrat – important enough to listen to his mother when she wanted a name change. Though he’s not superstitious, Aphibarnrat said many Thai people believe in luck and that changing names can help. He said his mother sought out assistance from monks.
In Thailand, everyone’s surname must be different, unless people are related. Anujit Hirunratanakorn became Kiradech Aphibarnrat: “If it makes my mom happy, I’ll do it.”
Aphibarnrat used to race cars but gave it up for safety reasons. When he tees off at noon today with Keegan Bradley and Brandt Snedeker, it will be his sixth start in a major. He missed the cut three times at the British Open and tied for 25th and 68th at the PGA Championship.
His family will be with him.
“This is the best golf course in the world. I just try to come in and enjoy it. I’ll try to get my A-game out,” he said. “I’m just looking forward to being a part of this event. My dream has come true.”