Arnond plans to stand tall at Maybank Malaysian Open

Kuala Lumpur: Thailand’s rising star Arnond Vongvanij plans to post the right numbers to extend his Asian Tour joyride at the US$2.5 million Maybank Malaysian Open starting on Thursday.

The 23-year-old earned his place in the prestigious championship sanctioned with the European Tour after making a flying start to his rookie season on the Asian Tour.

While delighted to line up alongside Major champions Martin Kaymer of Germany and South African duo Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen, beaten in a play-off at the Masters Tournament on Sunday, Arnond is feeling slightly apprehensive of the week ahead.

“I’m 1.65m tall,” said Arnond, one of the smallest players at the Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club this week.

“So getting here into a co-sanctioned event with the European Tour, the guys are so much bigger than I am. But it doesn’t really matter as in golf, the physical aspect doesn’t mean anything. You may have a 350m drive or a three inch putt and they are all the same to golfers.”

The Florida-based Arnond earned his Asian Tour card through Qualifying School and subsequently posted two straight top-10s at the Zaykabar Myanmar Open and ICTSI Philippine Open. He’s missed only one cut in six starts and ranks 29th on the Order of Merit.

A finance major from the University of Florida, Arnond knows he must shoot the right numbers if he is to emulate his idol Thongchai Jaidee’s two victories in the Malaysian Open.

“I graduated in finance, so I’m pretty good with numbers. I’m just concerned about the numbers one to four and not going beyond 72!” joked the Thai.

“I’m happy to get this opportunity especially as a rookie. To get here without a win, it’s a good accomplishment in itself. I played quite well at the beginning of the year but slipped out a bit with the putting in the last few events. Other than that I still feel I’m playing well,” he said.

He enjoyed a practice round with Thongchai and Bangladeshi sensation Siddikur on Tuesday and found inspiration from the latter. “Siddikur is a small guy like myself and he hit it shorter than I do. But he’s always in contention and that’s something which I can learn from him,” said Arnond.

He admits to feeling the jitters being in his first major tournament since turning professional last season but knows the rewards will be great if he can upset the odds.

“A good week here, a top 10, will guarantee a card for next year. My goal right now is to not think about it, just go out to play good golf. If I think about it, it won’t help me play better. The more I have in my mind, the worse it is for me. I just want to go out and make birdies,” said Arnond.

“I do feel pressured to do well. I’m not thinking about this being a big event. I’m just going to try and have fun and play some good golf. I just want to learn and get better.”

Thongchai, victorious in Malaysia in 2004 and 2005, hopes playing the opening two rounds with Schwartzel, who won the Masters in 2011, and Oosthuizen, winner of the British Open in 2010, will provide the spark in his game.

“My golf game is okay, not great. But my putting is getting better now. I changed a few things. I tried to change my swing a bit. It’s a good draw and I’m looking forward to the next few days,” said Thongchai, who switched to the belly putter at the start of the season.

The three-time Asian Tour number one said the face of professional golf was changing with young stars such as Arnond fighting for glory. “It feels like it’s a long time ago since I won in Malaysia,” said the 42-year-old, holder of a record 13 Asian Tour victories.

“I know golf right now is about the young generation. Young stars are coming up. But in golf, you never know. Paul Lawrie improved this season and won once and jumped into the world’s top-50. A couple of guys like Thaworn Wiratchant have also played well.

“When you’re older, the distance gets shorter. Putting can also be a problem. Golf courses these days are getting longer and longer. I try to win every week. If not, I’ll try next week. I’m still capable of winning.”