Shona A Singh
Hua Hin, Thailand, January 24: Overnight leader Daniel Chopra of Sweden, alongside highly talented players Chikka S of India, Lee Chieh-po of Chinese Taipei, Thai duo Phiphatphong Naewsuk and Danthai Boonma were among 47 players who earned an Asian Tour card at the Qualifying School Final Stage presented by Sports Authority of Thailand on Saturday.
Chopra, a two-time winner on the PGA Tour and one-time winner on the Asian Tour, outclassed the elite field by signing for a three-under-par 68 to win by four shots on 15-under-par 270 total at the Springfield Royal Golf Club.
Finland’s Kalle Samooja, a former member of the Asian Tour, returned with the day’s lowest round of 65 to take second place while Thailand’s Phiphatphong Naewsuk settled one shot back in third on 275 at the Qualifying School.
2011 Asian Development Tour (ADT) Order of Merit winner Jonathan Moore of the United States, Korea’s Kim Gi-whan, Canadian Lindsay Renolds and India’s Himmat Rai were also among those who finished inside top-40 and ties to secure their Asian Tour card for 2015.
Chopra, who fired six birdies against three bogeys, shrugged off the final round pressure and credited his experience for a remarkable performance this week.
“It feels really wonderful to be back on Tour. The course was really demanding off the tee. I was reminded of how focused I was when I tried to get my PGA Tour card a few years ago. That experience helped. I kept my rhythm nice and smooth and that gave me good confidence,” said the 41-year-old Swede.
“I am feeling more relieved now. It has been tough for me for the past few years. It’s good that I belonged somewhere again. I’ve learnt and crafted my game in Asia and it’s a place I would always call home. I can’t wait to start playing out here. Winning the Qualifying School makes me feel that I can win on Tour again,” added Chopra.
Phiphatphong, who won the ADT Boonchu Ruangkit Championship on home soil earlier this month, was brimming with pride after earning his well-deserved Tour card for the very first time.
“I played very well today. Everything was good for me out there. Winning Boonchu’s event earlier was a great boost of confidence for me. I have been playing well since. I am really happy to earn my card and I look forward to playing on Tour,” said the 25-year-old Thai, a double gold medalist at the 2007 Southeast Asian Games.
Chikka made up for the disappointment of missing out on his Tour card by one shot last year by putting up a remarkable display in what was only his second attempt at the Qualifying School.
“This means a lot to me. I really worked hard for this. It took me a year to come back again and finally get my Tour card. It has a tough week. Missing out last year was really emotional for me but it has made me a stronger person. My attitude in my game got better and I am really happy I made it,” said the 21-year-old Indian.
Lee was also delighted to earn his Tour card after enjoying a splendid run since the first stage at the Qualifying School last week.
“I’m playing in my first month as a professional. I can’t ask for more. I am very happy to earn my card this week and I’m excited to come out and play with the other good golfers out here,” said the 20-year-old.
All Qualifying School entrants will be eligible to compete on the burgeoning ADT, which was inaugurated in 2010 as a gateway to the premier Asian Tour. The secondary circuit staged a record total of 21 tournaments in the 2014 season.
With the Olympic Games looming in 2016 where golf will be reintroduced as a medal sport, players in the region could earn their spots in Rio de Janeiro by earning Official World Golf Ranking points through the Asian Tour and ADT.