China’s Li and Thailand’s Kiradech eye berths in 2019 Presidents Cup
Austin, Texas, March 19: China’s Haotong Li and Kiradech Aphibarnrat of Thailand will have the perfect opportunity this week to show newly-installed International team captain, Ernie Els why they could be prime candidates for the 2019 Presidents Cup.
The talented duo will represent a strong Asian contingent, with amongst others, Japanese star Hideki Matsuyama, India’s Shubhankar Sharma and Korea’s Siwoo Kim, in the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play at Austin Country Club starting on Wednesday.
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.
“Yeah, for sure (I want to play) since the last time I was nearly there but I didn’t get in. It was quite close. 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, enjoyed a front row seat when Li shot a stunning 63 in the final round at the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale last year where the young Chinese finished third.
Els, who played with Li on that glorious Sunday, said: “That’s not the same number as Branden Grace (who shot a 62 in the third round), but that’s as good a round. 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.”
The slender Li will have another chance to impress Els when he makes his debut at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, which is exclusive to the world’s leading 64 golfers. He finished T54 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard on Sunday.
Like Li, Kiradech was close to earning a spot in the International team three years ago. With his career trending upwards where he is currently 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 on the final day.
PGA TOUR Commissioner, Jay Monahan believes the naming of Els and Woods as captains will inspire players to fight their way into the next Presidents Cup which will be played at The Royal Melbourne Golf Course in December 2019.
“I think it’s a huge impact. And I think it’s a huge impact because for two reasons, one, they’re going to bring the world at large to the Presidents Cup as they have done every time that they’re competing on a global stage. And in doing so they’re likely going to be bringing forward future stars and if you look at what’s happening in the game right now internationally, you got Haotong Li inside the top-40 in the world from China, Shubhankar Sharma from India who has played exceedingly well. We don’t know who is going to come forward between now and then, but it’s likely that stars from new countries are going to come forward with Ernie Els and Tiger Woods leading their respective teams,” said Monahan.
For more information, or to learn more about the Presidents Cup, information on travel packages, or get their names added to find out about ticket sales visit www.presidentscup.com, Join us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/thepresidentscup, Twitter and Instagram at @presidentscup and sign up for the Presidents Cup e-newsletter.