It's about time we had some cheerful news and what could be more cheerful than witnessing the wonderful smile of 19-year-old Thai golfer Chanettee Wannasaen after her extraordinary win at the LPGA's Portland Classic last Sunday. Nicknamed "Proud" the Chiang Mai native was beaming as she clutched the large trophy which was almost as big as herself.
Extraordinary is an overused word but it definitely fits Chanettee's achievement. Here we had a little-known Thai ranked 367 in the world demolishing a star-studded field with almost perfect golf. It was all the more remarkable as she had previously missed the cut nine times in a row.
I won't dwell on the golfing details, suffice to say she finished with a stunning 26-under par tournament record, four strokes ahead of her nearest challenger. Commentator and former LPGA star Morgan Pressel was so impressed she called it "one of the greatest performances we have ever seen."
Chanettee is the seventh Thai to win an LPGA title, joining a line-up of talented female golfers that have become true ambassadors for Thailand, admired for both their skills and congenial nature.
What caught the eye was the composure of the teenager as she headed towards her unlikely victory. She never looked flustered. Pressel commented that Chanettee was so calm "she looked like she was out for a walk in the park."
In fact the only time she appeared nervous was giving interviews. Despite still learning the language she bravely answered in English in front of millions of TV viewers. It must have been terrifying for her. Afterwards she burst into giggles just like any Thai teenager speaking English in public for the first time. There were no affectations.
Thailand can be truly proud of Proud.
"Proud" is an intriguing nickname and not one I recall coming across before. Among Chanettee's contemporaries, the Jutanugarn sisters Moriya and Ariya are called "Mo" and "May'' respectively while Atthaya Thitikul is known as "Jeen". "Golf" is a common nickname given to boys along with "Ball" and "Bank".
The first Thai female golfer to make an international impact was Virada Nirapathpongporn who won the US Women's Amateur in 2003. Virada was very popular at her college but fellow students struggled with her lengthy second name. However they came up with a neat solution by informally referring to her as "Virada Three Ps", although she was best known by her Thai nickname "Oui".
Nid, Noi or Toi?
The prevailing use of nicknames is an appealing aspect of Thai culture. I probably know more Thais by their nickname than their real name. Usually given shortly after a child is born, the names often reflect smallness. That's why Lek, Noi, Nid and Toi all meaning small or tiny, are very common.
Of course kids grow up and sometimes it seems incongruous that a tall fellow should be called Lek or Noi. Then you have an attractive lady who answers to Moo (pig) or Noo (mouse). Likewise you will meet normal-sized people with nicknames like Chang (elephant) or Ouan (fatty). Other kids are named after cute things like "Gratai" (rabbit) and Tukata (doll). One popular nickname is Gop (frog) but I'm not entirely sure why.
The Thais have done everyone a great favour by not having to call them by their surnames… just imagine.
I speak from bitter experience. On my second day in Thailand I had an appointment with the owner of a college in Makkasan. I was baffled that when I enquired after him I was met with blank looks. Nobody seemed to have heard of him. I continued to battle with his name but to no avail. Fortunately, I had his name card and when I handed it over the immediate reaction was "Ah, you mean Mr Prayoon."
Ignorant of the Thai practice of using first names I had been getting into a total tangle trying to pronounce Mr Prayoon's lengthy second name, hence all the puzzled looks.
Call me 'Ger'
Being called by your first name is a nice custom and I quickly adapted to "Mr Roger'' or to be more accurate "Mr Loger" or sometimes just "Ger". It seemed pleasantly informal especially if you heard your name called out at a government office or immigration queue rather than the cold "Mr Crutchley".
This first name greeting was just as well because in those early days very few Thais could pronounce my surname which admittedly is bit of a mouthful. At formal functions I soon got used to being introduced as Mr Crotchety which wasn't far off the mark.
Bushes and Plants
I admit to occasionally mangling up names, something I must have inherited from Crutch Senior. In his later years my dad used to get into trouble with people's surnames. It was not that he totally forgot the person's name but, more dangerously, almost got it right as far as word associations were concerned.
Thus Mrs Black was sometimes greeted with "Good morning Mrs White'' or on occasions "Mrs Green", while Mrs Snow never complained when he called her "Mrs Frost". I recall my mum having to apologise to Mrs Plant after his cheery greeting of "Lovely day Mrs Bush."
Thankfully Mr Butterworth had a sense of humour and simply smiled when dad called him "Mr Buttercup".
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