Bumper field in town for Thai Masters

Patcharajutar Kongkraphan, third left, and other Thai players pose with the Thailand LPGA Masters trophy.

The four-million-baht PTT Thailand LPGA Masters golf tournament tees off at Bangkok's Panya Indra Golf Club today.

For the first time, the event is sanctioned by the China LPGA Tour, the Australian LPGA and the Thai LPGA.

It is the first China LPGA tournament in Thailand as the tour expands into new territories, and second outside China after the 2015 Australia Classic.

The 114-player field consists of 44 China LPGA Tour players, 40 Thai LPGA Tour players, 20 from the Australian LPGA Tour and 10 sponsors' invites, all of whom are eligible to earn world ranking points this week.

The Thai challenge is led by LPGA Tour star Patcharajutar Kongkraphan.

With Thai players having played a significant role in the development of the China LPGA Tour, TK Pen, the circuit's founder and chairman, said yesterday at the launch ceremony that it was only natural to expand into the Land of Smiles.

He noted the Thai players participated in the inaugural China event, the CLPGA Orient Masters in 2014, and this week's tournament was important in promoting the exchange of golf culture and friendship between the two countries.

"In the early days of the establishment of the China Tour we lacked players and the Thai players came to China to help boost the development of the events. The Thai referees came to China as well," Pen said. "Now we are very excited to bring the women's world golf rankings to the Thai LPGA Tour for the first time in the fifth year of the PTT Thailand LPGA Masters."

Pen said over the years Thai players have won 23 of the 103 China LPGA Tour events.

Among those who have developed their game are LPGA Tour players Patcharajutar and Pornanong Phatlum, Japan LPGA Tour regular Porani Chutichai, and rising star Saranporn Langkulgasettrin, the current China LPGA Tour Order of Merit leader and a winner in Zhuhai and Wuhan, among others.

"After 12 years, China has become a second home for the Thai players. Nowadays there are 300 China LPGA members, of which 47 are Thais," he said.

Wiboon Champangeun, director of the Sports Authority of Thailand's professional sports development division, said the agency was pleased to be co-sponsoring the tournament as it was important to stage events of international standard to promote Thailand as a leading sports hub in the region.

"The tournament is also a stage for the Thai players to show their potential and performance in order for them to step up to be world-class players," he said. "We hope that the 2017 edition will reach its objectives and earn the utmost success."

The tournament ends Friday.

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