Talk about being a late bloomer. Thongchai Jaidee didn't pick up a golf club until he was 16. Then his progress in the game was put on hold while he served in the Thai Army as a special-forces paratrooper. Toward the end of his military service, Jaidee started honing his game at a course on an army base, but he remained an amateur until age 30.
Over the next 15 years—and for the past 10 with German swing instructor Peter Wolfenstetter—Jaidee had good success on the European Tour, winning seven times, most recently at the Porsche European Open in September. He also is the all-time money leader on the Asian Tour, with 13 titles, and the first Thai golfer to play in all four majors, win $5 million on the Asian Tour and compete in the Presidents Cup, in which he went 1-1-1 in October.
Small in size, Jaidee relies on accuracy and a competitive spirit to keep up with other leading players. He has consistently ranked top 50 in the world the past three years. "He's small but very strong, due to his time in the army," says Wolfenstetter, who highlights Jaidee's swing.
Thongchai Jaidee might weigh less than 140 pounds, but his athletic setup (springy knees, poised arms) promotes power and accuracy. "He's balanced and stable, with his upper body tilted to the right," says his teacher, Peter Wolfenstetter. "He's set to swing up on the ball at impact, and that's good for the driver."
Starting back and well into the swing, Jaidee's right leg is a pillar of stability and balance. "It has barely moved from address," Wolfenstetter says. "Thongchai starts bending the right elbow here, which leads to a good shoulder turn." He cocks his head to his right, a la Jack Nicklaus, which helps him turn all the way back.
TURN, BABY, TURN!
At the top, Jaidee demonstrates why he has become a powerful and straight driver. Note the full shoulder turn against the solid hips, which have hardly moved. "He sometimes leaves some shots out to the right, and we are working on that," Wolfenstetter says. "I want to see his left wrist flatter to help him hit it straighter."
SQUAT FOR SPEED
Just as Jaidee's right leg created stability going back, his left leg does the same coming through. "Thongchai shifts his weight to his left side and keeps his left leg stable and balanced," Wolfenstetter says. "His right elbow starts going down in front of his body, and his left arm straightens, creating a full radius."
Jaidee stays grounded at impact. As his hips turn through, his upper body, especially his head, stays back, creating an upward launch. "His left wrist is flat and his right arm has straightened," Wolfenstetter says. "His right hand is in a hitting position, controlling the face. The clubface is the king in this game."
Past impact and into the finish, the left leg is Jaidee's swing stabilizer. It finally snaps straight through impact. "He can rip it because his head is in the same position it was in the setup," Wolfenstetter says. "Both arms and hands release against the left side, and he makes a powerful body rotation to the finish."