Kiradech Aphibarnrat has never been more anxious flying home to Bangkok than on this occasion.
He needed to put on protective gloves and a face mask throughout three flights that took him from Orlando to Thailand’s capital city in a journey spanning nearly 16,000km last weekend.
The PGA TOUR star is now serving a mandatory 14-day quarantine in a hotel room designated by the local government before he and his wife Tunyatorn can be reunited with their family members.
“We had our gloves and mask on all the time throughout the flights,” said Kiradech, who were part of a group of nearly 140 Thai nationals including LPGA Tour stars Ariya and Moriya Jutanugarn flown out of the U.S. on April 17 through arrangements made by the Thai government.
“In the plane, the passengers were kept apart to observe social distancing. We left our home at 6am on April 17 and arrived in the quarantine centre at 1am on April 19. My wife and I are currently in different rooms due to the quarantine. I’m excited to be able to see my family soon.”
When the PGA TOUR temporarily shut down due to the spread of Covid-19 on March 13, Kiradech initially felt it was best to stay put in his U.S. base in Orlando. As the situation escalated, he tried to leave the U.S. with the Jutanugarn sisters in early April, only to be denied at the 11th hour when Thailand stopped all international arrivals as part of preventive measures.
Kiradech then posted on Instagram a screengrab of him in a video call with the sisters, all of them teary-eyed. He kept in close touch with them and another fellow Thai LPGA golfer Wichanee Meechai and when the Thai government announced a special flight home on April 17, they began the rush to complete the necessary documentation and medical screenings needed to get on the flight.
“We had to submit the paperwork to the Thai Embassy in Washington D.C. and also get a medical certification to be deemed as fit-to-fly,” said Kiradech.
Upon arrival in Bangkok, the passengers were subsequently sent to the quarantine hotel. They are provided with basic needs and Kiradech has spent most of his time watching movies, conducting his exercises and getting onto social media to keep in touch with friends while stuck in his room.
“I have to keep myself all the time. It’s a lock down,” said Kiradech. “We can’t get friends to send stuff over and the food here is okay. However, I can’t wait to eat my mother’s home-cooked food though. I’m going to ask her to make Thai basil pork which is my favourite when I get home.
“I’ve got my golf clubs in the room but I can’t chip or putt as I don’t have any golf balls in the bag! So, I’m just exercising a little bit, resting, playing online games and watching movies to pass the time.”
While the PGA TOUR has announced plans to resume competition in June, Kiradech is unsure of his immediate playing schedule. “I want to work, I want to play but I want to be safe as well,” said Kiradech, the first Thai golfer to hold a PGA TOUR card.
“It’s good to announce we will resume play but I’ll decide on my plans later. Right now, I intend to stay at home for a while and shut down. I won’t go out to practice and will keep safe as I don’t want to affect my parents. It’s an opportunity to also rest my (left) knee and work on strengthening the knee (which he injured last April).”
Thailand has reported over 2,800 cases of Covid-19 and new cases has been on a downward trend over the past two weeks. Being stuck initially in Orlando and now in a quarantine hotel due to health and safety precautions have the burly Kiradech viewing things with a different lens on now.
“This is like a life lesson. I’ve been away from golf for so long now. When we were in Orlando, it was scary to go out to meet friends as we were afraid of passing the virus. Everyone has to be safe. It makes you appreciate life and golf more.”