Rising star Aphibarnrat heads Asian Tour

Kuala Lumpur, January 20: Thailand's Kiradech Aphibarnrat achieved his childhood dream after being officially crowned as the Asian Tour's Order of Merit champion following the conclusion of the 2013 season on Sunday.

The 24-year-old Kiradech emulated his idols Thongchai Jaidee and Thaworn Wiratchant in becoming the region's top player and vowed to push ahead with other career goals, including winning a Major championship and becoming a world's top-50 player.

"When I turned pro in 2009, I was just trying to keep my card to continue having the opportunity to play year after year. But the top Thai players like Thongchai and Thaworn all won the Order of Merit titles and I always hoped that one day, I could also have the opportunity to win the Merit title," said Kiradech.

During a season which four other Thais were victorious on the Asian Tour, Kiradech believes that growing up in the company of golf legends has played a big role in developing him into a top player.

"I always learn something from the top Thai players. Thongchai always reminds me that you have not won until the last hole is played while Thaworn plays his own game no matter what. We are lucky to have Boonchu (Ruangkit). In my rookie year, he told me that it is all about believing in yourself and your own ability," said Kiradech.

Thanks to one victory and five other top-five finishes, Kiradech became only the second player after India's Jeev Milkha Singh to earn over US$1 million in winnings in a single season, earning US$1.12 million.

His popular win at the Maybank Malaysian Open and a joint third finish at the CIMB Classic, also in Malaysia, were worth US$864,000.

"I love Malaysia," smiled Kiradech. "I played two weeks there and those two results helped me win the Order of Merit. Starting the year, I won on the local tour and I had a lot of confidence. My confidence just kept growing."

Ranked 60th in the world as of last week, Kiradech is hopeful of breaking into the top-50 which would help get him into the Majors and World Golf Championships. His Asian Tour Order of Merit success rewards him with exemptions into the WGC-Cadillac Championship in March and British Open in July. If he maintains his current ranking, he will also qualify for the WGC-Accenture Match Play next month.

"I cannot say if I will win a Major but it is my goal to win one for sure," said Kiradech, who finished tied 25th at the US PGA Championship last season.

"I've always wanted to win an Order of Merit title and I've done it. In the next few years, my goal would be to win a Major. If I keep doing my best, I think maybe I will achieve this."

Stats do not lie and Kiradech showed his consistency with all round solid play, averaging 69.88 strokes per round, hitting 71 per cent of greens in regulation (GIR) and needing only 28.63 putts per round. He also drove the ball 307 yards on average and hit 4.54 birdies per round, which ranked him the highest in the category.

The big Thai took time to pay tribute to his swing coach, Natpasit Chokthanasart (nicknamed Pro Jew) who passed away last month. "Playing aggressive golf is my natural game. I want to thank Pro Jew. When I started, he told me to hit it long and he always taught me to aim for the pins. That kept the game fun for me. I am glad I have stuck to this play. He built me to be what I am today," said Kiradech.

Kiradech, who made his debut on the Asian Tour in 2009 before winning his first title two years later, said he would always be indebted to the region's premier Tour. "Boonchu keeps reminding us about where we come from. For me, my first Tour is the Asian Tour. I started from here and I was born from here. I will always remember what the Asian Tour has done for me," he said.

Asian Tour