Image from Asian Tour - James Kamte
Bangkok, February 3: South African James Kamte is fired up for his title defence of the Asian Tour International, the season-opener in Asia, but he will likely have to compete with borrowed clubs starting on Thursday.
Kamte is amongst a strong line-up of stars from 25 different nationalities assembled at the Suwan Golf and Country Club which reflects the cosmopolitan attraction of the established Asian Tour.
Thai hero Thaworn Wiratchant will spearhead the local charge in the US$300,000 event alongside upcoming talent Kiradech Aphibarnrat while other top names include Australian Marcus Both, who has finished third in the last two editions of the Asian Tour International, in-form Singaporean Lam Chih Bing, India’s Gaganjeet Bhullar and Japanese winners Daisuke Maruyama and Azuma Yano.
Kamte enjoyed a memorable 2009 with his maiden Tour victory and he sweetened his year by qualifying for his first Major at the US Open where he was invited by world number one Tiger Woods to play in a practice round. He was also invited by Jack Nicklaus to compete in the Memorial Tournament.
While memories of last year’s two-shot victory in Suwan is still vivid in his mind, the 27-year-old Kamte is keeping his fingers crossed that his golf clubs will show up after it failed to arrive on Tuesday.
“It’s awesome to come back to a place with good memories. It’s not a bad start to the year as you think ‘wow, I’ve won here last year’. You want to do the same thing. You become positive and hopefully I’ll get a good start again. I had a good year-end break, I did a bit of work and you always want to defend your title,” said Kamte.
“However, my clubs are not here. They told me the clubs would be here this morning but they didn’t show up. So I’ve been trying to chase the airport and I phoned the Asian Tour office and asked for some spare clubs. If I have to use them the whole week, I’ll use them. If my clubs arrive, it’ll be a bonus,” added the South African.
As the first tournament of the new Asian Tour season, expectations are running high amongst the players. Lam, one of Singapore’s leading stars, enjoyed a nice warm-up to the Asian Tour International when he triumphed in a domestic Thai event last weekend.
“You can sense that everyone is eager to start playing again,” said Lam. “It’s been a long break and every one is excited to get the season going. It’s always nice to start the year with a win. I was quite surprised as I was a bit rusty. I didn’t touch a club for close to a month and my first round back was a bit dodgy but luckily, it has felt a lot better the past two weeks. However, every week is a different week, so hopefully my game will continue to be strong,” added Lam, whose lone Asian Tour title was achieved in Thailand in 2008.
The 2010 season will bring about new changes, especially with new regulations on clubface grooves. Kiradech, who is amongst a new breed of Asian player tipped for stardom, has put new clubs in his bag and he is coping with the change. What has not changed though is his determination to land a first title on the Asian Tour.
“I’ve won twice on the local tour, so the goal this year is to try and win one on the Asian Tour,” said the burly Thai, who is a former world junior champion. “Last year, I learned how to manage my game plan. When I was an amateur, I would just hit a shot without thinking about OB (out of bounds) or water hazards. I find that I’m thinking a lot better on the golf course now.”
Using new clubs with approved grooves have been painstaking transition. He put them to use in a local event last week but missed the cut. “The distance and spin control are different. I need to practice a bit more with them,” said the 20-year-old.
After ending last season with two top-10s and one victory in Cambodia, Both was eager to head out to the Asian Tour International where he has had success in the past two years.
“I pretty much had enough of sitting at home,” he said. “It is good to get back on the road. I put in a lot of work at the end of the year and the game feels pretty good. It’s hard to tell though as it’s two different things, playing and practising. Hopefully I can continue on the form which I had at the end of last year,” added Both, who finished a career high seventh place on the Order of Merit last year.
Bhullar, who finished one rung above Both on the rankings, summed up the importance of the Asian Tour International, which celebrates its third edition this week.
“It’s the first event of the year and everyone trying to put their money up on the board. Playing well in the beginning of the year can give you the right confidence for the next 11 months,” he said.