Chonburi – The star-studded Thailand team got off to a flying start, leading Japan 5-3 in the first day of the US$1.2 million Amata Friendship Cup at the Amata Spring Country Cub.
Thailand, spearheaded by Kiradech Abhibarnrat, the highest ranked male player at No 38 in the world, former Thailand No 1 and 8-time European Tour victor Thongchai Jaidee, and world No 1 Ariya Jutanugarn, dominated the morning’s foursomes 2.5-1.5.
After losing the first foursomes point to Japan, when Ryuko Tokimatsu and Erika Hara easily knocked out three-time Japan Senior Tour No 1 Prayad Marksaeng, and Thai No 2 Moriya Jutanugarn 6&5, Thailand fought back to take the second point, courtesy of two-time Asian Tour winner Prom Meesawat, and LPGA member Pannarat Thanapolboonyaras, who beat Masahiro Kawamura and Mami Fukuda 2 up.
“We didn’t start well over the first five holes. But luckily, they started missing and we raised our game on the back nine. We had a good game plan as I had to hit the ball to the positions that would be easy for Pannarat to hit into the greens. Things can turn around quickly which is the charm of match play,” said Prom.
Thailand surged ahead to 2-1 after legendary player Thongchai and Thidapa Suwannapura, one of the three Thais to hold LPGA trophy this year, beat Kodai Ichihara and Sakura Koiwai 1 up.
“You need to have a good game plan in foursomes. My strategy was to make Thidapa feel relaxed and enjoy the game, which in hand leads to good results. Thidapa got excited at times, but she still played consistently. At the end of the day, we scored a point for the team,” said the three-time Asian Tour Order of Merits winner.
Thai No 1 Kiradech, and Youth Olympic mixed doubles gold medalist Atthaya Thitikul, then halved with Satoshi Kodaira and Yuri Yoshida, for half a point each as the home team landed the first session of the day with 2.15-1.5 lead.
“We were playing quite well, having four birdies without a bogey. But we were facing two players who were playing incredibly well too. However, it ended up with all square, at least we earned half a point.” said Kiradech who was unhappy with the limited number of Thai fans that were at the course today.
“I just hope to see more Thai fans over the weekend. I was a shame that there were more Japanese fans on the course when this is our home tournament” said the 29-year-old PGA full card member.
In the afternoon’s fourballs, Thailand still took control when young gun Jazz Janewattananond and Thai No 3 Pornanong Phatlum beat Hideto Tanihara and Nasa Hataoka 3&2.
“We were like ham and eggs out there, as when one played bad, the other would play well. I like playing with Pornanong and we will team up again on Saturday,” said Jazz, winner of the Queen’s Cup in Pattaya in July.
Much like Kiradech, Jazz hopes to see a huge local turnout on Saturday.
“There were a lot of Japanese supporters out there. I didn’t see many Thais, perhaps it was because it was Friday. hopefully more Thai people come and show their support at the weekend,” said Jazz or officially known as Atiwit Janewattananond.
Japan then fought back when Ryuko Tokimatsu and Erika Hara won their second match of the day, beating Prom and Pannarat 4&3.
Falling one shot behind going into the final hole, veteran Prayad and world No 1 Ariya fought back to halve the match with Kodai Ichihara and Fumika Kawagishi after the Japanese duo both made a bogey on the finishing hole, while the Thais saved par.
“Luckily, the Japanese players missed their shots, one into a bunker and other into the water which opened up an opportunity for us. I told Ariya to just hit the green and we both did it,” said the 52-year-old Prayad who had to play 36 holes in one day.
“Captain Boonchu Ruangkit made me play 36 holes in one day. I almost had no energy left after 14 holes in the afternoon,” Prayad said.
For Ariya, she was excited to have a dream come true by playing alongside Prayad, one of the most successful golfers in all of Thai golf.
“I was nervous and couldn’t control the ball at the beginning. But in the end, we fought our way back to all square,” said the 10-time LPGA Tour winner.
In the last match of the day, which was extended to twilight during the final hole, amateur Sadom Kaewkanjana and Moriya Jutanugarn beat Yuto Katsuragawa and Sakura Koiwai 1 up.