Friday, May 24 2024

Golf’s history-making schoolboy: The hectic double-life of 15-year-old Ratchanon ‘TK’ Chantananuwat | CNN

Estimated read time 9 min read

CNN  — 

Similar to the majority of 15-year-olds, Ratchanon “TK” Chantananuwat considers topics such as school, exams, and future college plans.

However, Ratchanon stands out from other children his age as he is an amateur golfer who has achieved historical success, competing against top professionals in the sport.

Five weeks after turning 15 in April, he captured the attention of the world by becoming the youngest male to win a major Tour event. He achieved this feat in his home country of Thailand, taking home the $750,000 prize at the Trust Golf Asian Mixed Cup.

During this month, he is preparing for significant biology and economics tests, which adds to the stress of also competing at the 31st Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in Vietnam as a representative for his country.

Ratchanon remains undaunted as he navigates the challenging task at hand, determined to prove a point.

He shared with CNN that while it can be tough at times, he embraces the challenge and strives to excel in both areas, proving any skeptics wrong.

It seems that being an athlete automatically means you can’t excel in school. I am determined to challenge that belief.

Victory on the Asian Tour marked a new high-point in the fledgling career of one of the sport’s brightest young stars. Ratchanon has enjoyed a sensational rise since – aged just 13 years and four months – he became the youngest player to make the cut in the history of the All Thailand Golf Tour, in August 2020.

Amazingly, he nearly won an Asian Tour tournament much earlier, placing third in his debut international professional event at the Singapore International in January.

Origin story

Ratchanon’s introduction to golf is reminiscent of a superhero’s origin tale. He started playing at the age of three, using plastic clubs and balls. TK, a nickname that combines his parents’ initials, earned his place in his first tournament at the age of four, finishing last.

Ratchanon remembers feeling extremely envious when he saw the child who received the trophy. He was confused as to why he didn’t receive one himself and became very upset. His father had to clarify how the other child earned the trophy.

After dedicating a month to rigorous training with his father, who shared his love for golf and competitiveness, he successfully won the trophy on his next try.

During his initial participation in the Junior World event a year after, encouraging messages were written on chairs placed at every tee. One of them read, “Winners never give up and quitters never win,” which perfectly captures Ratchanon’s mindset and dedication.

The father of this young player serves as both his caddie and third coach, dedicating additional time to help his son improve upon lessons taught by two other coaches. On days without school, the already rigorous practice routine intensifies, with the child spending seven to nine hours on the course perfecting their skills.

Ratchanon chips onto the green at the PIF Saudi International in February.

Ratchanon has been advised to avoid exhaustion and has begun to occasionally take half days off. During this time, he focuses on tutoring, physiotherapy, or fitness. However, he dismisses any notion of burnout.

“I do not foresee it occurring. I have a passion for golf and enjoy practicing,” Ratchanon stated.

“It may be challenging and require great discipline, but after two months of intense effort to achieve one successful outcome or result, I believe it is worth it for me.”

Role model

And who better to oversee Ratchanon’s ascent than compatriot Thongchai Jaidee, an Asian Tour legend with 20 professional wins to his name. The 52-year-old icon has helped the youngster with various aspects of his game since their first meeting in 2019.

Ratchanon dedicated three weeks to practicing his hero’s spinning chip, spending six hours each day perfecting the technique alongside his partner.

Ratchanon expressed his gratitude for the assistance he has received from the individual, stating that he is a wonderful person. He believes that this person takes pleasure in aiding the growth of young Thai golfers for the betterment of Thai golf.

Jaidee during the Chubb Classic at Florida's Tiburon Golf Club in February.

Thongchai has played a significant role in shaping the psychological aspect of the young player’s game. He has assisted in developing a routine to overcome challenges during high-pressure situations. As a result, Ratchanon now has a strategy to utilize in crucial moments: he slows down, takes a drink of water, and swings without any hesitation.

When questioned about the pressure of being labeled a “teen prodigy” and competing with top athletes in the sport, the 15-year-old responds with a simple statement, “I find it enjoyable.”

“I don’t feel any pressure…I’m not afraid to play with skilled individuals,” he stated.

I have been fortunate to have a supportive circle of people around me who have not pressured me, and I am grateful for their help in keeping me on track.

Stay in school

Ratchanon’s approach is to tackle tasks gradually. He is determined not to hastily transition into the professional sphere, and is fully committed to excelling in his studies before doing so.

Patty Tavatanakit, the golfer who finds it strange to consider herself a major champion, is the subject at hand.

Ratchanon has aspirations to study physics at a college in the United States while also continuing to balance his passion for golf. He is inspired by the success stories of Colin Morikawa and Patty Tavatanakit, both of whom graduated from prestigious universities in California, Berkeley and UCLA, before achieving major victories in their respective fields.

“I have witnessed many Thai players making the decision to turn professional at a young age. However, it seems that more and more people are realizing the value of attending college,” he stated.

“If we make the decision to become professional, this becomes our way of life. There is no turning back.”


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