10 June 2021: Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat hopes to break out from a lean spell at the Palmetto Championship at Congaree this week and replicate the comeback story scripted recently by LPGA star and close friend, Ariya Jutanugarn. Anirban Lahiri is playing his second event since getting infected with coronavirus, as he works his way back from battling a bout of COVID19 in the past month.
Lahiri had a solid fall season, highlighted by a top 10 in the Corales Puntacana Resort and Club Championship. He began this year with another good performance, a T11 in the Bermuda Championship. Since then though, Lahiri has struggled to dial his best when he needs it, missing the cut in eight of eleven events.
Anirban played some exceptional golf in the Valero Texas Open when he shot three straight 69s to finish in fifth place. Three missed cuts on either side of that result though have left the Indian with more questions than answers. And he seeks to find them quickly, as he sets up for a hectic schedule running through the end of July.
The Indian has plenty to look forward to – certainly aware about being a far better golfer than his ranking may suggest, he would like to make a significant move from 354th in the world. A few good results also should help secure a spot to play his second Olympics as well. Anirban is currently 122nd on the FedexCup rankings, needing to move up and avoid the mad frenzy at the end to finish on the right side of those rankings.
Ariya ended a three-year title drought by winning the LPGA Thailand on home soil last month for her 11th career victory which has since inspired Kiradech to try and do the same on the PGA TOUR after a difficult past two years dealing with injury, loss of form and the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We’re really close together, and we do talk a lot,” said the 31-year-old Kiradech on Wednesday.
“I always believe in her. Even the last two years when she doesn’t have any wins and falling from world No. 1, we still believe in each other and I still believe she can win and it was nice to see her do it. I can come back good enough to win on this TOUR. I just need one good week, and she keeps saying every time I came out to play in golf events, like just believe in myself, play what you used to do and do what I used to do, and I’ll be fine,” said the 31-year-old Kiradech.
Ariya, 25, and sister Moriya, who also plays on the LPGA, live close to Kiradech in Lake Nona, Florida and they often hang out for meals and practice together during their off days in the U.S., and also while at home in Bangkok during the off-season.
The past two years have been rough for Kiradech since tumbling to the ground while hitting a recovery shot during the 2019 Masters Tournament which led to a partially torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his right knee. He then missed much of 2020 due to the pandemic and when he thought a tied 11th finish in Bermuda last November was the light at the end of the tunnel, Kiradech caught Covid-19 which sidelined him for several weeks. In eight starts in 2021, he has made only one cut and currently ranks 192nd on the FedExCup points list and in danger of losing his TOUR card.
“I’ve worked so hard – not in the last three weeks, the last whole year. I’ve been struggling kind of getting my “A” game. I’ve been trying to work really, really hard to get back on form. I have my coach Mike Walker with me this week and hope everything is going the right way,” said the former Asian No. 1.
A holder of four European Tour wins, Kiradech’s last triumph was over three years ago but he has been in the game long enough to know that all it takes is one good week to turn the corner. “I keep missing cuts, not playing my best golf game. I turned pro in 2008 and last two years have been the most difficult two years. This is the first time I’ve been struggling, especially on the PGA TOUR and it’s the most difficult TOUR to get back in. I’m looking forward to the rest of the season, get back on my form, and even though I’m not in the top 125, I’m looking for a win.
“I’m taking it week to week. I’ve still got some golf to play and winning a golf event is always the plan. For me, I just need one good week to get my confidence back. I’m telling you I know how to win golf events,” said Kiradech.
Just a few years ago, Kiradech, the first Thai to earn a PGA TOUR card, regularly featured in the world’s top-50 but enters the week in 467th position. He remains unperturbed and insists his best golf days are still ahead of him.
“I couldn’t tell how far off I am, but I don’t think I’m really far off. All I need is just one good week, one good day to trust what I’m trying to achieve in the last whole year. If that one day pops up and I can realize what I’m doing is correct, I can just keep going. One thing that I know in myself is I know how to play this game. I just can’t get the momentum, get the confidence back as it used to be. Just one good week, and I believe I can come back stronger.”