At the age of 15, Ratchanon “TK” Chantananuwat, like many teenagers, considers his education, tests, and future college plans.
Ratchanon stands out from his peers as he is an amateur golfer who has already made history by competing against top professionals in the sport.
In April, just five weeks after his 15th birthday, he gained global attention for being the youngest male to win a major Tour event. He secured the $750,000 Trust Golf Asian Mixed Cup in his home country of Thailand.
Golf’s greatest-ever prodigies
This month, he is preparing for significant biology and economics exams, which he must balance with his role as a representative for his country at the 31st Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in Vietnam.
Ratchanon remains undeterred by the daunting task at hand and is determined to make a statement.
He informed CNN that although it can be difficult at times, he embraces the challenge. He is determined to excel in both areas and prove any skeptics wrong.
“It seems that being an athlete means you can’t excel in academics. I am determined to challenge this belief.”
The recent win on the Asian Tour signified a significant milestone in the early career of a rising star in the sport. Ratchanon has experienced a remarkable ascent since becoming the youngest player to qualify for the All Thailand Golf Tour at the age of 13 years and four months in August 2020.
Surprisingly, he almost won an Asian Tour competition much earlier, securing a third place finish in his initial international professional event at the Singapore International in January.
Ratchanon’s introduction to golf resembles a story from a comic book. He started playing with toy clubs and balls at just three years old, earning him the nickname TK, which combines his parents’ initials. However, at four years old, he placed last in his first tournament.
Ratchanon remembers feeling extremely envious when he saw the child who received the trophy. He was confused as to why he didn’t receive one and became very upset. His father had to explain to him how the other child earned the trophy.
After rigorous training for a month with a father who shared his love for golf and competition, he finally won the trophy on his next try.
At his initial Junior World competition the following year, encouraging messages were written on chairs located at every tee. One of the inscriptions read, “Winners never give up and those who quit never win,” a motto that reflects Ratchanon’s determination and diligence.
His dad serves as both his caddie and a third coach, dedicating additional time to work with his son and reinforce teachings from two other coaches. On non-school days, the already strenuous practice routine intensifies to a higher level, with the young golfer spending anywhere from seven to nine hours on the course perfecting his skills.
After being cautioned about overworking, Ratchanon has begun to occasionally take half days to focus on tutoring, physiotherapy, or fitness. However, they dismiss any concerns of burnout.
Ratchanon expressed his love for golf and practicing, stating that he did not envision it happening.
“It can be challenging, both physically and mentally, but dedicating oneself to intense effort for just two months to achieve one successful moment or outcome is worth it to me in the end.”
Thongchai Jaidee, a veteran of the Asian Tour with 20 career victories, has been guiding Ratchanon’s rise in the sport since they first met in 2019.
Ratchanon dedicated himself to mastering his hero’s spinning chip by practicing the technique for six hours a day over the course of three weeks.
Ratchanon expressed, “He has been providing me with a lot of assistance in improving my game. He is an exceptional individual who takes pleasure in supporting the growth of young Thai golfers for the advancement of Thai golf.”
Thongchai has also helped mold the mental side of the teen’s game, helping him implement a routine to overcome dips in performance under pressure. Now, Ratchanon has a method to use in big moments: slow down, take a sip of water, and swing “without hesitation.”
When asked about the pressure of being labeled a “teen prodigy” and competing with top athletes in the sport, the 15-year-old responds by saying, “I find it enjoyable.”
He stated, “I do not feel pressured… I am not afraid to play with skilled individuals.”
“I have been fortunate enough to have a supportive circle of people who have not pressured me, and are willing to assist me and keep me on track.”
Stay in school
Ratchanon’s approach is to tackle things gradually, taking one step at a time. He is careful not to hastily make the transition to the professional game, instead remaining fully dedicated to excelling in school first.
Patty Tavatanakit, the golfer who acknowledges feeling strange about being a major champion, is the subject of this article.
Ratchanon has aspirations of pursuing physics at a university in the United States, while also continuing his golf pursuits. He is inspired by the accomplishments of Colin Morikawa and Patty Tavatanakit, both of whom graduated from UC Berkeley and UCLA, respectively, before achieving major success.
He stated that he has observed numerous Thai players starting their professional careers early, but now it seems that many people recognize the value of attending college.
“If we choose to become professionals, this becomes our way of life. Going back is not an option.”