Golf is returning to the Olympics for the first time since 1904 and Thailand, whose golfers have made steady progress in the past decade, have earned four tickets – two each for men’s and women’s competitions – to Rio de Janeiro.
At the Aug 5-21 Rio Games, world No.38 Thongchai Jaidee and No.53 Kiradech Aphibarnrat will be carrying the Thai hopes in the men’s tournament, while No.7 Ariya Jutanagarn and No.34 Pornanong Phatlum will be vying for the women’s top honours.
The four see participation in the Games as a dream come true.
Thongchai, 46, has played in all the major golf tournaments but never in the Olympics.
“I have won many events in Europe and Asia, but I have never contested at the Olympics,” said eight-time European Tour winner Thongchai.
“It will be a great honour for me to play for the country at the Olympics as, to me, winning for the country takes priority over everything else.”
The 20-year-old Ariya, who donned the Thai colours at the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games, is also excited to represent the country again.
“I cannot wait for the Olympics to start,” said Ariya, adding: “I am anxious to play in Rio because I can represent Thailand. I feel excited about it.”
Ariya has said that she wants to become the top-ranked player, a major winner and an Olympic champion.
The Thais are pinning their hopes on Thongchai and Ariya, who are in confident moods after their recent achievements, to deliver medals in Rio.
Thongchai stormed to a four-stroke victory at the French Open early this month for his eighth win on the European Tour.
The result moved him back among the top 50 in the world and he also wrested Thailand’s No.1 spot back from Kiradech.
Ariya, who is now third on the money list, became the first Thai winner on the LPGA Tour when she claimed the Yokohama Tire LPGA Classic title in May.
She went on to win the Kingsmill Championship and Volvik Championship to make it three in a row with all her triumphs coming in May, which happens to be her nickname as well.
Teammate Pornanong, 26, is currently ranked 24th on the LPGA money list.
The 26-year-old Kiradech has been suffering from a drop in his form but the burly Thai has the potential to be successful at the Olympics if he can regain his touch in time.
His achievements this year include sharing 15th spot at the Masters, sixth place at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and a fifth-place finish at the BMW International Open.
Three-time European Tour winner Kiradech has represented the country on many occasions, including the 2007 SEA Games in Nakhon Ratchasima where Thailand swept all the four gold medals in golf.
Rangsrid Luxitanond, president of the Thailand Golf Association, said improved performances of the Thai players and withdrawals of many world-class players mean that Thailand can start fancying a medal in the Games like a number of other countries.
“As professionals, they have played and practised well but the course at the Olympics will be new for them [the Thai players],” said Rangsrid.
He added: “We have a better chance to win a medal in the men’s event as a number of big names have withdrawn from the Games.
“Anything can happen in golf. If it is your day, you will make it. Hopefully, no one gets injured in the build-up to the tournament.”
The men’s event will be held from Aug 11-14 while the women’s competition will take place from Aug 17-20.
Thongchai and Kiradech will fly to Brazil after the PGA Championship to be held from July 28-31, while Ariya and Pornanong will compete at the Women’s British Open in the same week before heading to Rio.
Read original story here.