Next year’s Open Championship at Royal Troon will feature a 16-year-old professional after Thailand’s Phachara Khongwatmai secured his place in the Ayrshire event along with Jamie Donaldson, Lee Westwood and Clement Sordet.
The quartet qualified for the 145th Claret Jug joust through the Thailand Golf Championship, with Khongwatmai penning an early fairytale for the R&A’s marquee tournament.
He came through a Monday qualifier for the Asian Tour event at Amata Spring Country Club in Chonburi then produced the performance of his young life by finishing sixth behind Donaldson as the Welshman recaptured his Ryder Cup form to return to winning ways.
“I am overwhelmed with happiness that I can be able to be included in The Open next year,” said the teenager, who joined Donaldson and joint runners-up Westwood and Frenchman Sordet in securing a ticket to Troon due to the fact Sergio Garcia and An Byeong-Hun, who finished fourth and fifth, are already exempt.
“I played with no expectations, so I guess that was the key to playing well. I was already very happy to get a chance to play with the top stars this week. I didn’t think so much and I surprised even myself to finish so well.”
Phachara already holds the honour of being the youngest winner on the Asian Development Tour when he triumphed in March at the age of 15.
Donaldson, who clinched Europe’s thumping Ryder Cup victory at Gleneagles last September, closed with a seven-under-par 65 as he secured a welcome three-shot success. “I hadn’t played great this year but that’s as well as I can play and I’m really happy,” he said.
Westwood, who was pleased to put up a spirited defence of his title, has secured an Open Championship spot for the 22nd consecutive year. “It’s my favourite championship of the year,” said the Englishman. “I have played in every one since 1995, so it’s nice to keep that run going. I’ve played at Royal Troon quite a few times and I finished fourth there one year [behind Todd Hamilton in 2004]. I like the golf course as it’s a traditional links.”