May 18, 2022
The MENA Tour race within the Beautiful Thailand Swing race is off to a cliffhanger start at Blue Canyon
By Kent Gray
Given Suttijet Kooratanapisan has missed all three previous cuts at the Beautiful Thailand Swing (BTS), few saw his birdie and eagle-laden charge to the summit of the Blue Canyon Open leaderboard on Wednesday.
What wasn’t a surprise was to see a low number, in this case an eight-under 64 on the Canyon course at Blue Canyon Country Club, beside the 31-year-old Thai’s name.
Kooratanapisan’s is famous for carding golf’s mythical number, 59, at nearby Laguna Golf Phuket during the 2017 Phuket Open, also an Asian Development Tour (ADT) event.
While he’s won on The ADT before at the 2016 Bangladesh Open, the man from Ratchaburi is still searching for his maiden Asian Tour title. You might have thought it was a long way off after his BTS struggles but it seems Kooratanapisan has rediscovered his go-low ability at the most opportune time.
"I just lost my confidence in first event but when I played in the practice round yesterday, I just find something to make me play better,” said Kooratanapisan who will take a one-stroke advantage over American Dodge Kemmer, who won the ADT’s season-opening Gurugram Open in India, into Thursday’s second round.
"I just find my tempo swing, and try to relax when I am in a round. Before that I have a pressure on myself so much.”
Kooratanapisan looked in fine-fettle from the get-go rather than a player struggling for form in the first round. He opened with back-to-back birdies from the 10th tee before adding one of two eagles on the 15th when he chipped in from 15 yards on the par-5.
There was another birdie as he turned in five-under 31 before he mixed two birdies and a watery bogey with a closing eagle on the 9th, the latter achieved with a four-iron gently cut to four feet. It was a nice bonus after he stood on the 9th tee, his 18th, with a more modest goal in mind.
"I thought when I was on the last hole that I just need only one more birdie so I’m very happy to finish with eagle,” said the world No. 1724.
Kooratanapisan is currently 151st on the Asian Tour Order of Merit (OOM) and fails to feature on the ADT money list after his struggles at the Laguna Phuket Challenge (+7 for T-105), Laguna Phuket Cup (+3 for T-93) and Blue Canyon Classic (- 1 for T-63). But he’s hoping Wednesday’s score signals a change in fortunes.
"My goal this year is I need to finish top 60 on the Asian Tour or try get top seven on The ADT [and gain automatic graduation to the main tour]. Today is a good start.”
French MENA Tour player Victor Riu and Thai Settee Prakongvech will start Thursday joint third after 66s while another Thai, Vanchai Luangnitikul, carded a five-under 67 to share fifth place alongside Malaysia’s Paul San.
Inside the top-15 is Lao’s Thammasack Bouahom whose round of 69 included a rare albatross two on the par-5 9th, his closing hole.
The finale of the MENA Tour OOM race, meanwhile, remains a cliffhanger with Journey to Jordan leader Tom Sloman signing for a two-under 70 – the same score as his nearest challenger David Langley. One better is fellow Englishman David Hague who is third in the race, one of only four players who can still capture the overall title and a player, not unlike Kooratanapisan, who is finally finding some form after missing the past two cuts.
The winner of the 2020+ Journey to Jordan, which will have spanned nine events, five countries, two continents and 837 days by the end of the Blue Canyon Open courtesy of the pandemic, earns an invite to one of the Asian Tour’s new $1.5 million-plus International Series events.