by Ross ADKIN
Thailand’s Jazz Janewattananond has something special in his bag as he prepares for the US Masters — the Buddhist meditation techniques learned as a monk that have helped him become the talk of Asian golf.
The 24-year-old is Augusta-bound after a huge year when he won the Asian Tour order of merit, with two tournament victories, and impressed at the PGA Championship at Bethpage.
Jazz’s victory at the Indonesian Masters in December saw him safely inside the world top 50, and secured his place among golf’s elite at the Masters in April.
The unassuming Thai is now 40th in the rankings, the second-highest Asian behind South Korea’s Im Sung-jae, and he walked off with four 2019 Asian Tour awards including Players’ Player of the Year.
The former teen prodigy — who goes by the nickname given by his music-loving father — became the youngest player, at 14 years and 71 days, to make the cut at an Asian Tour event in Bangkok in 2010.
But after turning pro at 15, there have been tough moments too and it was after losing his Asian Tour card in 2016 that he spent two weeks living as a Buddhist monk.
He shaved his head and wore saffron robes at the monastery in the northern Chiang Rai region, where the strict routine involved fasting, chanting and learning how to meditate.
Most young Thai men spend time as a monk and the experience had a profound effect on Jazz, who won his first Asian Tour event, in Bangladesh, a few months later.
‘Play with respect’
He has since chalked up another five wins on the Tour and sits higher on the rankings than his colourful countryman Kiradech Aphibarnrat, the established US PGA Tour player who he calls his “older brother”.
Jazz turned heads during his Major debut at last year’s PGA Championship, where he was tied for second behind Brooks Koepka after the third round.
The Thai, who stroked a creditable two-under-par 68 at a breezy Fanling in the Hong Kong Open’s first round on Thursday, said meditation remains an important tool as he builds his career.
“I’m still doing it,” he said.
“It’s not all the time, it is stuff I do when I feel like something is off, or I feel like I need to get back to the peace or something is going crazy.”
Jazz will need all his peace of mind to overcome his chequered record on the unusual, challenging Fanling layout, where he failed to make the cut on each of his two previous visits.
“I was a bit too aggressive,” he said of his last encounters. “You need to play to the course, not overcome it… play with respect.”
Jazz isn’t the only Thai sportsman to spend time in a monastery: Kiradech also had a brief spell as a monk, as did former top-10 tennis player Paradorn Srichaphan.
After dominating the Asian Tour awards, handed out this week at a ceremony in Hong Kong, Jazz said his Players’ Player of the Year prize shows “you’re doing something right”.
“They’ve accepted you,” he said.
As well as the US Masters and playing more on the European Tour, Jazz has his sights on breaking into the world top 30 in the “short-term”.
And if he is playing on the final day at Fanling, he will switch his outfit to orange, the colour he wears every tournament Sunday in homage to his Buddhist robes.
© Agence France-Presse