Patty, Ariya carry Thai medal hopes

Patty, Ariya carry Thai medal hopes

Jazz, Gunn can spring surprise in men's golf

Ariya Jutanugarn
Ariya Jutanugarn

Four Thai golfers will chase Olympic glory in Tokyo -- Patty Tavatanakit and Ariya Jutanugarn in the women's event, and Jazz Janewattananond and Gunn Charoenkul in the men's competition.

While major champions Patty and Ariya Jutanugarn are legitimate contenders at the 2020 Olympics, lower-ranked Jazz and Gunn believe they are not in Tokyo just to make up the numbers and are even dreaming of winning medals.

Kasumigaseki Country Club will host the men's event from July 29-Aug 1 and the women's competition from Aug 4-7. Tokyo 2020 officially starts on Friday and ends on Aug 8.

According to the Sports Authority of Thailand (SAT), Patty, whose Thai name is Paphangkorn, is among the country's top hopes at the Games, while Ariya is in a group of athletes who have high chances of winning medals.

Patty, 21, will make her Olympic debut, while Ariya, 25, will play in her second Games.

Ariya, who has won 12 LPGA Tour titles, wants to redeem herself after her disappointing spell at Rio five years ago when golf returned to the Olympics after a 116-year absence.

Ariya was the hottest player in the run-up to Rio 2016, having claimed her first four tour wins in her breakthrough year.

She was the first-round leader in Rio after winning her first major title at the Women's British Open a few weeks earlier.

But following her poor second-round performance and more bad results in the third round she withdrew from the event citing injury.

She was criticised for not giving her all for the country as some critics said she just wanted to pursue glory in her professional career.

The following week, she won in Canada for her fifth tour title of that year.

She said in a recent interview that she was disappointed by her withdrawal at Rio 2016.

Ariya insisted she was genuinely injured at that time. "Injuries can happen any time," she said.

The former world No.1 said Olympics is one of the biggest tournaments and that she always wants to represent Thailand.

Ariya's confidence was boosted when she partnered her sister Moriya to win last week's Great Lakes Bay Invitational, a two-player team event on the LPGA Tour.

In May, she became the first local player to secure the LPGA Thailand crown which also ended her long title drought.

Patty, 21, shot to fame on the international stage when she won her maiden LPGA title at the ANA Inspiration, the year's first major championship.

Thanks mainly to the major triumph, the LPGA Tour rookie qualified for the Tokyo Games as Thailand's top female player at No.12 in the Olympic rankings ahead of Ariya who was 17th.

After her ANA Inspiration success, Patty has been quite consistent and finished near the top of the leaderboard on several occasions.

The UCLA undergraduate also finished joint fifth at the Women's PGA Championship.

"I'm comfortable [on the LPGA Tour] and feel like I can compete with everyone. At the same time, I realise that it is my first year and I have a lot to learn," Patty said.

Patty and Ariya may have higher chances of grabbing Olympic medals than winning a major championship, or even a normal LPGA event.

The field at the Olympics, with 60 players, looks much weaker than those in the majors and regular tour events which feature about 150 players.

As Olympic golf organisers want players from all continents to get a chance to compete in the Games, a country can only have a maximum four players in the field.

As a result, several fine players, particularly those from South Korea and the US, have missed out on earning tickets to Tokyo.

Among the contenders at the 2020 Games are Rio champion Park In-Bee, runner-up Lydia Ko and third-placed Feng Shanshan, and American sisters Nelly and Jessica Korda.

'Anything can happen'

Jazz and Gunn will make their first Olympic appearances at Tokyo 2020.

Jazz, whose real name is Atiwit, said he had watched the Olympics on TV since he was young.

"I don't like to daydream and I don't say things like I want to win the Masters one day or the [British] Open. I won't daydream except for the Olympics," said the 25-year-old who finished tied for 46th at the British Open on Sunday.

"The Olympics is different and I would often think what if I can win an Olympic medal. It's so weird. I think it is the ultimate for sports."

For Gunn, it will also be his debut for the national team.

"During the early part of my career, when I was 16 or 17 years old, I never got a chance to get into the national team. So, this is the first time," said the 29-year-old star who plays on the Japan tour.

"My goal is to win one of the medals. You have to aim high, even though the top players are going to be there."

While Thailand Golf Association president Rangsrid Luxitanond admitted that Ariya and Patty had much higher chances of winning medals in Tokyo than Jazz and Gunn, he said the men could defy the odds.

"Anything can happen in golf," Rangsrid said. "Our men could spring a surprise at the Tokyo Games."

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