By John Huggan
Whenever the European Tour comes up with something a little bit different from the usual 72-hole strokeplay event, it clearly pays to look out for Kiradech Aphibarnrat. Winner of the Paul Lawrie Matchplay Championship back in 2015, the 28-year-old Thai picked up his fourth European Tour title with a victory in the even more disparate ISPS Handa World Super 6 Perth.
He did it the tough way, too. After only deciding to play at the last minute, Aphibarnrat arrived in the Western Australia capital on the eve of the event and teed-up the next day without the benefit of a practice round on the Lake Karrinyup course.
Two days after that, the 53rd ranked player in the world was one of nine men battling for the last eight spots among the 24 players who would move forward from the stroke-play component of this unique event and into the series of six-hole head-to-head matches. As it turned out, the soon-to-be champion needed five extra holes to beat Australia’s Anthony Quayle and become the last of the qualifiers.
Five matches later (the top-eight from stroke-play were given byes into the second round) Aphibarnrat was A$283,330 richer and poised to move into the world’s top 50. Again though, those rewards were hard won. In all, he played 93 holes—15 of those the 18th or the 93-yard “shoot-out hole” designed to break any tied matches—and 35 on the final day. Only once in defeating Ben Eccles, Yuzako Miyazato, Sean Crocker, Lucas Herbert (who later claimed third place by defeating Englishman Sam Horsfield) and James Nitties did Aphibarnrat not have to go to the final hole or beyond.
His shortest match of the week, ironically, was the final in which he defeated former PGA Tour player Nitties, 2 and 1. The highlight of the contest came at the drivable par-4 fourth hole, where, after watching his opponent make an unlikely birdie via the trees, Aphibarnrat holed out for an eagle to take the lead for the first time. A birdie from 10 feet at the penultimate hole clinched the victory.
“It’s just been an awesome week,” Aphibarnrat said. “I don’t know how to explain, but I’m so happy. I’m working so hard. The last few months I’ve been getting really close, and finally I’ve done it. It means a lot. When you focus on something, you try this hard, then I kept finishing second and then I’m not giving up. I’m trying so hard until I get it. It’s really tough to get in the last 24. It’s been tough every single match that I play in. James is playing so good, but he’s just unlucky at the end.”
For Nitties, currently without status on the European Tour, there was ultimate disappointment but hope for the future.
“It’s a sad way to go down considering another win might have got me some playing rights somewhere in the world, but it was a great week,” said the runner-up, who earned A$188,880. “Considering I was a four-footer away from losing the first match, it was pretty positive stuff getting to the final.”
The other star of an enjoyable week that illustrated only too clearly the old maxim that stroke play only really becomes interesting when it morphs into match play, was the Lake Karrinyup course. Released from the relatively tedious constraint of writing numbers on cards, the players were able to fully express themselves on the 7,184-yard layout, one that highlighted width, strategy, firm greens and short grass. In these days of ever-slower rounds and ever-more one-dimensional play, the course provides a lesson for every tour.