DORAL, Fla. (AP) — Until he made a triple bogey on the final hole, Prayad Marksaeng of Thailand saw his name atop the leaderboard Friday in the CA Championship. No other player at Doral has climbed higher to get there.
He grew up in poverty, sleeping with his 10 or 11 siblings in the upper room of a two-story house in Hua Hin. Prayad is not sure how many brothers and sisters he had, only that three of them died – one before he was born, another in a car accident, a third drowned.
His daily routine was to drive a three-wheel taxi from 4 a.m. until 10 a.m., before going to Royal Hua Hin Golf Club to caddie. When he finished 18 holes, Prayad headed to the train station to sell vegetables.
The highlight of his day came late in the afternoon, when the club manager allowed caddies to chip and putt.
Prayad made his first golf club himself – a piece of metal attached to a bamboo stick, with a used bicycle tire that he wrapped around the stick for a grip.
“I could use that one club for a month,” he said through his translator and manager, Pimporn Rojsattarat.
Prayad, a 43-year-old father of two, looked like a regular golfer on the Blue Monster. He was dressed in white pants and an orange shirt, with the Singha Beer logo on his chest and the Callaway logo on his shirt and cap. Indeed, those Callaway clubs work a little better than that bamboo stick.
He stands out in these World Golf Championships because no one is familiar with his name, but he has been hard to miss for two days. He shot 30 on his back nine Thursday to share the 18-hole lead, then came out Friday with an eagle on the opening hole, and two more birdies to take the lead.
Prayad was running even with Phil Mickelson until the 18th hole.
He hit his approach well right of the green into thick rough, and dumped a delicate pitch into the bunker. He blasted out to 20 feet, ran that 4 feet by the hole and three-putted for a triple bogey and a 70.
That left him at 9-under 135, four shots out of the lead, but still in the running for a $1.4 million prize. Even now, such a prize is hard to fathom for a kid who made $3 a round as a caddie.
The pressure of competing against a world-class field? That’s nothing compared with earning money to live.
“I came from a poor family, and so many members are in my family, so I had to work and make money for survival,” he said. “I worked many kind of work, like bicycle taxi and selling food at a railway station. I was a caddie and boxer, also. So many things I have done because I need some money for survival and for my family.”
Boxing didn’t quite work out.
“I got in a competition two times, but I lost,” he said. “Very painful.”
Golf has worked out better than anyone could have imagined. Prayad turned pro in 1991 and made it to the Asian Tour four years later. He has won six times on the Asian Tour, and became the first Thai to qualify for the British Open in 1999. He also has three victories on the Japan Golf Tour.
Is it too much to dream for a victory in America?
“I never thought that I would come up here this day,” he said. “I thought I would only be able to play the Asian Tour. But now I can come up at this stage. Golf changed my life.”
He has earned more than $2 million for his career on the Asian Tour alone, and he has been the best player of Thai heritage on the Blue Monster this week. The other would be Tiger Woods, whose mother is from Thailand.
Prayad played with Woods the first two rounds of the Asian Honda Classic in 1997, and beat him in the first round.
“But not on Sunday,” he said with a laugh, recalling Woods finishing 64-66-68 to win by 10 shots.
Woods doesn’t recall his round at the Asian Honda with Prayad, but he knew plenty about him. In his trips to Asia, he said Prayad usually was in the group ahead of him or behind him.
“I tell you what, what he’s done from where he’s come from and what he means to all of the people in Thailand … obviously, my mom talks highly of him,” Woods said. “It’s pretty incredible that he’s been as successful as he has been, considering his starting point.”
Prayad wasn’t about to dwell on his triple bogey to finish his second round, his mind already on the weekend. This is his third World Golf Championship, and he didn’t do enough to get noticed in the other two. He tied for 68 last year at the Bridgestone Invitational, and was eliminated in the first round at the Accenture Match Play Championship two weeks ago.
Kenny Perry was asked if he had ever seen Prayad.
“Only on the Golf Channel,” he said. “It’s a global game, and there’s great players all over the world. It’s nice to have them here.”
If he only knew how Prayad got here, Perry might be simply amazed.