Chapchai Nirat and Hsieh Cheng-wei; age has no bearing on excellence

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Chapchai Nirat - TheGolfingHub
In his heyday Chapchai Nirat shot 32-under-par over 72 holes to claim the 2009 SAIL Open in India, setting a new Asian Tour record for the best 72-hole score. Photo: Paul Lakatos/Asian Tour

Four-time Asian Tour winner Chapchai Nirat proudly announced “my game is back” after firing one of his best tournament rounds for a considerable period, an eight-under-par 64, to take a two-shot lead halfway through the Yeangder TPC today, at Linkou International Golf and Country Club, in Taipei.

The former Golden Boy of Thai golf has been notable by absence for many seasons – the last of his victories on the Asian Tour came in 2014 – but glimpses of his old self were on display today when he made nine birdies before dropping his only shot on the penultimate hole.

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Defending champion Chinese-Taipei’s Lee Chieh-po (68), Ajeetesh Sandhu (68), the winner here in 2017, Settee Prakongvech from Thailand (66) and Berry Henson from the United States (67) sit in second place.

But it was Chinese-Taipei teenage amateur Hsieh Cheng-wei who grabbed much of the attention after adding a 74 to his opening 69 to reach one under and become the youngest male player to make the cut on one of the game’s main Tours.

At 14 years and 33 days old he beat the previous record set by China’s Guan Tian-lang, set at the 2013 Masters, when he was 14 years and 169 days.

Thailand’s Jazz Janewattananond had held the Asian Tour record having made it through to the weekend at the Asian Tour International in 2010, when he was 14 years and 71 days.

Said 39-year-old Chapchai: “I have been working with my coach for the last five months. I was teaching my juniors for a while but then I came back and worked hard for five months or six months, and on my fitness too. 

 

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“Today my putting was really good, but my tee shots were a bit left and right in today’s strong wind. The greens are also better this year. Yes, my game is back!”

In his heyday Chapchai shot 32 under par over 72 holes to claim the 2009 SAIL Open in India – setting a new Asian Tour record for the best 72-hole score – and he is looking to get back on track shooting low scores regularly again. 

 

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“I’m starting to have some confidence back from the past three events, I’m starting to play a bit better,” he said.

“Now I can see shooting minus seven or minus eight in a day, so I feel a lot more confident with my new game with this coach now. For the next year I’m planning to be in top 10 again in a lot of tournaments, and I’m planning to come back and win again.”

While Hsieh has some way to go before reaching that level, he made a phenomenal start to his career today by setting a new world mark in the men’s game.

 

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A birdie on the opening hole was the perfect start to his ambitious plan to play all four rounds but he kept people guessing with bogeys on eight and then finished nervously with dropped shots on 16 and 17. Having played in the morning session he had a long wait to see if one under would be good enough, which to the delight of everyone it was as the cut was made at even par.

“My calculations weren’t accurate today,” said Hsieh, who started playing golf at the age of four and has the benefit of Linkou being his home course. 

“I didn’t putt well. Didn’t hit it good off the tee especially on the back nine. It’s not that tough out there. I just didn’t play my best game. I got nervous towards the end because I wasn’t playing well. I didn’t have much expectation though. I just try to play my best. 

“I started preparing for this tournament after I found out I could play when I won the Yeangder amateur event in June. I have been practicing here a lot.”