ROCHESTER, New York (Reuters) - He is known as Asia’s version of John Daly but little-known Kiradech Aphibarnrat of Thailand made a name for himself by storming into contention at the PGA Championship on Thursday.
The 24-year-old’s hefty physique and big-hitting, go-for-broke style of play have drawn comparisons to that of Daly and he lived up to the billing, finishing his opening round three shots ahead of world number one Tiger Woods.
Aphibarnrat, who changed his name for good luck and gave up car racing three years ago to appease his worried mother, showed no nerves while playing in only his second major, where he hopes to improve on his missed cut at last month’s British Open.
“It was great golf for me and a good start for my second major,” Aphibarnrat told reporters after carding a two-under-par 68 at sunny Oak Hill Country Club.
“I was doing good in the (British) Open but struggled in the second round. I was a bit nervous, but I have learned from the experience of that major and will just try to work it out on the game tomorrow.”
Calling car racing too dangerous, Aphibarnrat decided to give up the sport after four years, a decision that sent his pleased mother into tears of joy on her birthday.
But the adrenaline Aphibarnrat enjoyed while racing Subaru Imprezzas in Thailand has not carried over to the golf course, where he has recorded one victory on the European Tour and two wins on his home Asian Tour.
“It’s a big difference,” said Aphibarnrat, who won the Malaysian Open in March. “All sports are the same, you have to focus, but golf and racing are different. Golf is like shot by shot but racing you have to go and go, it’s more intense.”
Aphibarnrat, who started golfing when he was eight and is one of the most exciting young players to emerge from Thailand, welcomes the comparisons to Daly, who won the 1991 PGA Championship at Crooked Stick in Carmel, Indiana.
“I played with him a couple of times and I am really proud with that (comparison),” said Aphibarnrat. “He is one of the PGA Championship winners as well and it’s my pleasure if I can hear comparisons.”
Aphibarnrat, known previously as Anujit Hirunratanakorn, changed his name about seven years ago, a ploy in Thailand which he said is seen by many as a viable way to change one’s luck.
He may need a lot of luck to emulate Daly’s unlikely PGA Championship victory at Crooked Stick, where the burly American triumphed by three strokes after being the ninth alternate in the build-up to the tournament.
“I don’t want to force myself a lot,” said Aphibarnrat, who was greeted warmly by the gallery at the 18th hole as he lumbered his way onto the green.
“Just stick to the game plan and keep it on the fairway and give me a lot of chances to putt.”
Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes