Thailand’s Rattanon Wannasrichan credits the enforced break caused by COVID-19 and help from former Asian Tour player turned coach Annop Tangkamolprasert for his dramatic turnaround in form this year.
Rattanon starts as a potential contender in this week’s Royal’s Cup at Grand Prix Golf Club, the second event of the season on the Asian Tour, after an impressive start to 2022 which included narrowly losing to Korean Joohyung Kim in a dramatic sudden-death play-off at The Singapore International last month.
It’s been a delight to see the 26 year old back in full flight after two torrid years when he feels the problem was more psychological than physical.
And any athlete that has experienced a mental block that hinders performance at the highest level will probably admit that these are more difficult to overcome than a technical one.
“It’s not that it wasn’t good, I could not hit them,” Rattanon says, particularly about when things started to go awry in 2019.
He is not the kind of player you would expect to have these issues: he claimed the Thailand Open in 2017 while collecting three other top-five finishes and finishing 37th on the Asian Tour Order of Merit with over US$131,000 in earnings. And 2018 results were very similar with two top-five finishes in big events and a 36th place on the Merit list.
But the 2019 season would prove to be much more difficult.
“In 2019 I made the cut in only five Asian Tour events. I played many tournaments that year because I was also playing Japan Tour, but I lost my confidence to play and lost my mental capacity. I couldn’t hit my irons; I admit that I couldn’t hit the ball in 2019,” he adds.
So, what turned things around?
Firstly, while the hiatus forced by the pandemic was a testing time for a lot of players, it proved to be a much-needed clean break for Rattanon.
He said: “During the pandemic I didn’t practice very much, and I think that was good for me. When I didn’t play golf for a while, it made me forget about the bad shots”.
And, at the end of 2021, he started working with his friend Annop – brother of two-time Asian Tour winner Pavit Tangkamolprasert – and this collaboration proved promising after only a few weeks.
“I wasn’t confident in any shot for a year-and-a-half before going to Singapore. I practiced with Annop for a month in the end of last year, and he helped me a lot and improved my swing. He changed my grip and the swing a little bit,” said Rattanon.
It was a fourth-place finish in the Trust Golf Mixed event in Thailand at the end of December that gave him the confidence to travel to The Singapore International, which was played on the impressive but punishing Tampines Course at Tanah Merah Country Club.
Armed with a new belief in his ability, Rattanon performed beautifully in what was the penultimate event of the 2020-21 season.
Having held the overnight lead after both rounds two and three by two shots, he was eventually caught by Kim in the last round after shooting an even-par 72 to Kim’s 70. The play-off was decided on the first extra hole with a birdie from Kim while Rattanon’s effort slid by the hole.
“The conditions at Tanah Merah were very difficult and it was windy. My iron shots were not very good but my chip-shots and putting was great. Although I lost in the play-off I’m satisfied. It made me feel more confident,” said Rattanon.
Importantly, the runner-up finish in Singapore secured his playing rights for the 2022/23 Asian Tour season, and he started the new season with an impressive tied-46th placing against a world-class field at the Saudi International at the beginning of February.
“It’s really great to see the Asian Tour come back strongly. There are many tournaments to play this year, especially starting the season with a very big tournament like the Saudi International, and this week’s Royal’s Cup,” said the Thai golfer.
“My plan for this year is just to enjoy my game. I don’t want to expect too much because I don’t want to put pressure on myself like I did in the past. As you know, I played well in 2017 but a year later I practiced too hard and expected too much. When it didn’t work, I lost my confidence so from now on I will try to not think too much about the results. Just take it easy and concentrate on my game.”