A working-class golf hero: John Daly? Nope. Try Thongchai Jaidee of Thailand
At five feet seven and 139 pounds, he’s Bangkok Al’s size but without the Milwaukee tumor. And he’s very dark-skinned in a country where skin-whitening cosmetics are found in every hand bag and bathroom cabinet. Thai people will do almost anything to flee the sun, and not just because of skin cancer. There is no such thing as a rich golf course tan in Thailand. If you’re dark, it means you’re probably a poor laborer in the rice paddies. You’re very low on the social scale, which in turn indicates your last life wasn’t exemplary, or so the Buddhists believe. People think differently here.
So you’ve got this dark little wiry dude with ears that stick out, born to a poor family in Lopburi, an old city north of Bangkok where hundreds of mangy-looking monkeys hang out near the train station, hoping to snatch a bite of food from an unsuspecting tourist. He grows up in a house without a kitchen, flush toilet or shower. Like many Thai boys, he dreams of being a soccer star, but instead gravitates to golf. He learns to swing with a homemade club he fashions out of a bamboo branch. Then at 19, he joins the Royal Thai Army and remains there for 11 years. Fortunately, there wasn’t a lot for the Thai army to do back then, so Thongchai is allowed to spend time working on his golf game. He emerges from the Army at 30, turns pro, and within a few years he’s winning tournaments on both the Asian and European tours.
Thongchai is now one of the three biggest sports figures in Thailand, along with tennis player Paradorn Srichapan and flyweight boxing champion Pongsaklek Wonjongkam. He’s seen as a working-class hero whose determination and grit have enabled him to rise from humble circumstances. His winnings now total more than $2 million. That may not be impressive by Tiger and Phil standards, but for a poor Thai kid off the streets of Lopburi, it’s an incredible feat.
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This guy has game.
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