After a popular and timely return to form over the past few weeks, Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat is competing with renewed confidence in this week’s Fortinet Championship ‒ the opening event of the PGA Tour’s 2021-22 season.
He shot an even-par 72 in the opening round yesterday at Silverado Resort and Spa North, Napa, California – where the lead was held by American Chez Reavie with a 65.
There is work to be done there for Kiradech but, at present, these are happier times for the Thai star, a three-time winner on the Asian Tour.
He lost his status on the PGA Tour this year after finishing outside the top-125 on the FedExCup ‒ mainly the result of being hampered by an injury and Covid-related travel problems.
Back in 2018, he had memorably made history by becoming the first Thai to earn a card on the PGA Tour, for the 2018–19 season.
However, he only made the cut five times in 17 starts on the PGA Tour’s 2020-21 season to record the poorest season of his career.
But any concerns about his future were quickly allayed in the space of a few weeks when first he regained his card via the Korn Ferry Tour Finals in the first week of September, and then the following week, on the other side of the Atlantic, he nearly won the BMW PGA Championship ‒ the European Tour’s flagship tournament, and a Rolex Series event.
The testing Korn Ferry Tour Finals are played over three successive events with the top-25 earning their cards; Kiradech made it through in 21st position.
“It’s an amazing day, amazing week,” he said at the time.
“I’ve played bad golf for almost two years because of my (knee) injury and the Covid situation but I just feel the last three months I’ve played solid golf and I deserved to get something back.”
The Thai is now playing his fourth season on the PGA Tour and believes the challenges and pressure he faced in having to qualify again will serve him well.
He credited his family for providing him with morale support over the past few months after his wife, mother and sister flew to the U.S. and travelled with him across the three Korn Ferry Tour Finals events.
“It’s always good to have family around. Get to eat some Thai food and you just feel more comfortable having family with you. Otherwise, you can feel lonely on Tour, and I certainly enjoyed myself the last few months,” added Kiradech.
And, the comeback did not stop there as he went on to thrill the galleries at Wentworth Golf Club, venue for the BMW PGA Championship.
Twice before he has been a runner up in Rolex Series events although after a poor year not much was expected of him at Wentworth, despite his Korn Ferry Tour Finals success.
But the 32 year old ‒ a four-time European Tour winner ‒ was again on point and shot sublime rounds of 66 and 64 to lead by one at the half way mark.
“I’m really proud of the way I’m playing these first two rounds,” he said. “A lot of good stuff in there.
“I don’t want to really set a goal, to be honest. I just want to go out there and swing, what I’m doing the first two rounds, do the same thing I’m doing, try to hit fairways, greens. Whatever the result, at the end of the day, I just accept it.”
He slipped back with a 74 on day three but responded in brilliant fashion, that suggested he has reset and is returning to his best, with a jaw-dropping 64 on Sunday to tie for second behind the champion, American Billy Horschel.
It was like the Kiradech of old and for his huge army of fans, hopefully, it is the Kiradech of the future.