China’s Haotong Li and Kiradech Aphibarnrat of Thailand will have the perfect opportunity this week to show International team captain Ernie Els why they could be prime candidates for the 2019 Presidents Cup.
The talented duo are part of a strong Asian contingent with, amongst others, Japanese star Hideki Matsuyama, India’s rising talent Shubhankar Sharma and Korea’s Siwoo Kim, in the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play which starts at Austin Country Club tomorrow.
The 22-year-old Li, ranked 40th in the world, narrowly missed qualifying for the Presidents Cup last year but hopes to maintain his push to become the first Chinese golfer to feature in the International team.
“I just need to keep playing well and then hopefully get in next year. As no Chinese has played in the event before, I want to be the first. I think it’ll be a great time for China golf and for my country,” said Li, who won the Omega Dubai Desert Classic in January after prevailing in a head-to-head duel with Rory McIlroy.
South African legend Els, who was named International team captain last week along with Tiger Woods who will helm the United States team, played with Li when the Chinese No 1 shot a stunning 63 in the final round at the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale last year to finish third.
“That’s not the same number as Branden Grace (who shot a 62 in the third round), but that’s as good a round,” said Els. “He had a nice attitude. You could see he was not backing off. The wind was picking up too. He didn’t miss a putt. He did everything he could.”
Kiradech was close to earning a spot in the International team three years ago. With his career trending upwards again where he is ranked a career high 31st in the world, the former Asian Tour No. 1 is keen to fight his way into Els’ team.
“It’ll be an honour to be in the Presidents Cup. Everyone wants to be on that team, especially the Asian players,” said Kiradech, who finished T5 at the WGC-Mexico Championship earlier this month. “I’m always proud to represent Thailand which is a small nation. To be part of the big events and to play on behalf of Thailand is a big honour.”
At the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play two years ago, Kiradech took down Jimmy Walker and Robert Streb in the group matches but lost to world No. 1 Dustin Johnson. Two of his four European Tour victories were at the 2015 Paul Lawrie Match Play and last month’s ISPS HANDA World Super 6 Perth, which used a six-hole match play format in the final day.