After I finished first in the U.S. Open sectional qualifier at El
Caballero Country Club in Tarzana, Calif., and learned I would be
the first Thai to play in a men's major, a USGA official said to
me, "Have fun in Oklahoma." I had no idea what he was talking
about. "What is Ockomama?" I asked, butchering the word.
My road to Southern Hills has been a long one. I earned an
exemption into the sectional by ranking second on the Asian tour
money list. In April, I made my first trip to the U.S. and, while
there, attended a weeklong program at the Landmark Golf School
outside Palm Desert, Calif. I returned to the States on Memorial
Day weekend with my caddie, Wanchai Meechai, who is also a
referee on the Asian tour. We didn't know anyone here and were
afraid to go out much because of the stories we had heard about
all the crime, so aside from a few practice rounds at El
Caballero, we left the Days Inn in Tarzana only for meals (Panang
curry and Pad Thai) at a Thai restaurant a block away. We tried
McDonald's and some other American restaurants, but the food was
Unlike most of Thailand's golfers, I'm not from a wealthy family.
My mother, Payom, was a custodian at the army hospital in Lop
Buri, a post 80 miles north of Bangkok. I joined the army at 19
and taught myself to play on the Lop Buri course. After my two
years of mandatory service ended in 1991, I stayed in the army
for nine more years so I could get access to a course and pursue
my dream of becoming a pro. I was a paratrooper, but the army let
me spend most of my time working on my game. I'd run seven miles
every morning, then practice for up to 12 hours. I turned pro in
1999, the year after winning the Thailand Amateur.
I've called home many times in the last week. Everybody wants to
know if I'm nervous. Yes, a little. But my biggest fear is that I
won't find a good Thai restaurant in Tulsa and will starve.
Thongchai Jaidee, 32, won the Indian Open in March.
COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK