Published on December 19, 2007
A trio of talented Thai golfers will form an exciting spearhead to Asia's bid to win the Royal Trophy for the first time in history next month.
Highly-experienced campaigners Thongchai Jaidee and Prayad Marksaeng will team up with the country's most exciting young gun, Chapchai Nirat, in an attempt to repel the European challenge in Bangkok from January 11 to 13.
Thongchai, 38, is one of the true legends of Asian golf, an eight times winner and the first golfer to collect more than US$2 million in career earnings on the Asian Tour. He will make his third successive Royal Trophy appearance, and is likely to pair up with one of his closest friends in Prayad - who secured his place earlier this month with a thrilling victory on home soil in the Asian Tour's final event, the Masters of Asia.
Prayad, 41, clinched his sixth Asian Tour title in Bangkok with a birdie at the 72nd hole and, in line with his huge popularity, immediately dedicated his victory to His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
Asian Team Captain Joe Ozaki knew it would be madness to leave Prayad out after such an emotional triumph, especially as all three Thai players he has selected are certain to be desperate to give His Majesty the King a belated birthday present with a first Royal Trophy success.
His Majesty the King of Thailand donated the impressive 16kg solid-silver Trophy Asia and Europe will again compete for at the Amata Spring Country Club, and Prayad greeted his selection by promising to do everything possible to keep it in Thailand.
"The whole country is in a mood of celebration over our Beloved King's Eightieth Birthday, and it would be wonderful to add to that with a Royal Trophy win. It will be a difficult task as Europe is always such a strong force in team events, but we will certainly not lack motivation or inspiration when we take them on.
"My victory could not have come at a better time, especially as it was achieved in Bangkok, which is where the Royal Trophy will be staged. I'm sure it was the deciding factor in my selection, so it is even more special to me," Prayad said.
Chapchai's claims for inclusion were also impossible to resist.
The big-hitting 24-year-old made a massive breakthrough in 2007, winning both the China Classic and the Vietnam Masters to finish runner-up on the Asian Tour Order of Merit in only his third season.
Prayad finished just three places below him, and Thongchai claimed eighth place, despite playing only 10 events as he had to fulfil his full-time commitments to the European Tour, where he is also a double champion. Their inclusion is a guarantee that the Asian Team will enjoy plenty of patriotic support, but Japanese great Ozaki insisted that was not the only reason for selecting them.
"Of course, you want some crowd favourites in the team, if possible, but the first criterion they have to fulfil is that they are playing great golf. Thongchai is a champion golfer in every sense of the word, and Prayad and Chapchai have both shown they are at the very peak of their form as the third edition of the Royal Trophy approaches. I'm very excited about what they will bring to the team," the Japanese star said.
Chapchai admits he watched the first two Royal Trophy clashes with a certain amount of envy, but could not have dared to imagine he would break into the team so quickly.
"You always want to be a part of a great event at home, but at the start of 2007 I could not have dreamed my career would take off the way it has. To win once was wonderful - to do it twice was unbelievable. And being chosen for my debut is a terrific climax to the year, especially so close to our Beloved King's Eightieth Birthday.
"It gives me confidence as I look to build on what I have achieved this year. I certainly did not have any ambitions of winning the Order of Merit in 2007, but after going so close it is something I will target in the future," Chapchai said.
With the in-form Japanese duo of Toru Taniguchi and Hideto Tanihara, plus India's Jeev Milkha Singh already named in the team, Thongchai believes they have the talent to deny Europe a hat-trick.
"Our Asian team is shaping up to the strongest one we have fielded so far, and even though we are drawn from different countries we will go into the competition with a common aim. We all recognise that a victory over Europe, who have dominated their Ryder Cup battles with America in recent years, would show the rest of the world that Asian golf is a force to be reckoned with.
"I desperately want to honour our Beloved King by keeping the Royal Trophy out of European hands, and if we can take advantage of the experience we have gained in the first two Royal Trophy matches I believe we are capable of causing a big upset."