Self-made Prayad wins his place among elite

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 January, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 26 January, 1998, 12:00am

As a boy, Prayad Marksaeng fashioned a golf club from a piece of bamboo and a chunk of scrap metal.

Early mornings and late afternoons, between stints of caddying at the Royal Hua Hin Golf Club, he'd experiment with his crudely manufactured implement.

By the time he reached his mid-teens in the early 1980s, he'd graduated to a cast-off iron, handed to him by a member of the club. From those humble beginnings, Prayad, through a combination of hard work, desire and dedication, has emerged as a bona fide golfing star.

And during the past week in Phuket, Prayad, the son of a pedal cart taxi driver, assured himself of a place in the annals of Asian professional golf.

The rise and rise of Prayad, now aged 31, has been a remarkable story.

For, unlike the majority of the players who teed-off in the eighth Johnnie Walker Classic at Blue Canyon, neither has Prayad come from a privileged background, nor is he a product of the college system.

Like such luminaries as Lee Trevino and Seve Ballesteros, and China's Zhang Lianwei and fellow-Thai Boonchu Ruangkit, his mentor, Prayad has hauled himself up by the bootlaces to succeed in a profession that is still widely regarded as elitist.

As a result of his achievements and the exposure he has received, Prayad has done much to popularise the sport, not only among youngsters in his native Thailand, but also throughout the region.

It was fitting, therefore, that the efforts of the 'little big man of Asian golf' should be recognised with the Johnnie Walker Asian Golfer of the Year award title for 1997.

Prayad's reaction to being bestowed with an accolade which went to Japanese Isao Aoki in 1994, Boonchu in 1995 and Zhang in 1996, was typical of the man.

As he stepped on to the stage at Friday's extravagant gala evening in Phuket, heart-felt applause rang out from the 1,000 guests. Prayad bowed courteously before being presented with his crystal trophy.

Appropriately, Tiger Woods, the American-Thai world number one, was among the first to congratulate him. Woods, whose mother is Thai and who has been adopted as a hero by Thais, had caught his first glimpse of Prayad at last year's Asian Honda Classic in Bangkok.

It was the first time Woods had appeared as a professional golfer in Thailand. While all the attention was focused on the golfing millionaire from America, Prayad, his playing partner for the first round, outscored him by three strokes.

Although it was Woods who went on to win that tournament at the start of a record-breaking year for him that also included a runaway victory in the US Masters, 1997 was memorable for Prayad in his own way.

Yet success in the professional ranks had not come immediately for Prayad. Despite his ball-striking prowess, the diminutive Thai initially struggled to make the transition after relinquishing his amateur status in the early 1990s.

In 1996, though, he gave an indication of what was to come with an imperious victory in the Volvo China Open in Beijing.

Spencer Robinson is managing editor of Asian Golfer