PGA Championship 2019: Who is Jazz Janewattananond and what’s he doing on the leader board at Bethpage?
FARMINGDALE, N.Y. — Let us venture a guess at your first reaction when seeing the leader board at the PGA Championship on Saturday afternoon:
HOW MANY strokes is Brooks Koepka ahead by now?
OK, how about your second reaction:
Who exactly is Jazz Janewattananond?
Glad you asked. Beyond just being a golf broadcaster’s worst nightmare—it’s pronounced “JANN-wat-ta-NON-nond”—the man we affectionately call “Smooth Jazz” is a rising star from Thailand. Come with us as we give you a little background on the young man who made four birdies over his first 10 holes en route to a three-under 67, the day's low round, to rise to a tie for second place at five under—but still seven strokes back of Koepka.
• His real first name is Atiwit, but he switched to his nickname that his father gave him (dad was a fan of, you guessed it, jazz music).
• He is built like, well, how about a clarinet. He is all of 5-feet-9 and his listed weight is 150 pounds. (He also wears braces.)
• He signs his autograph with a music symbol, followed by A-Z-Z. "I used to write my entire name, but then I realized that wasn't going to work. I tried this and it kind of got good feedback."
• He is ranked 72nd on the Official World Golf Ranking and was added as a special invitation by the PGA of America to the Bethpage field, this being his first PGA Championship.
• He turned pro in 2010 at age 15(!) It did not long after he also became the youngest golfer to make the cut on the Asian Tour (at the Asian Tour International).
• He played his first Japan Golf Tour event in September 2011 (the Asia-Pacific Panasonic Open at age 15), and made the cut.
• In 2016, he took a two-week stint as a monk in his native Thailand at the end of the golf season. He credited this time in the Buddist temple, where he shaved his head and prayed in silence much of the day, learning how to relax his mind and body, with helping him his maiden Asian Tour win at the 2017 Bangladesh Open.
• He chipped in for eagle on the final hole of European Tour Qualifying School to earn a card for the 2018 season on the number after finishing T-25.
• In 2019, he has split time between the Asian and European tours. He won in his first start at the SMBC Singapore Open. In six European Tour starts this year, his best finish is third at the Maybank Open in his native Thailand.
• He considers fellow Thai native Kiradech Aphibarnrat his mentor. The two play practice rounds together when they're in the same tournament, including this week at Bethpage.
• He has a very modern golf swing in which he swings hard and uses the ground to create even more clubhead speed, as you can see with this cool slow-motion of his swing:
• This week at Bethpage he’s using a local caddie, Jack Miller, who locals consider the No. 1 looper on the Black course. “It’s good, it’s good, it’s great. Sometimes I’m finding it hard to understand his New York accent,” Jazz told Newsday’s Mark Hermann earlier this week. “But it’s good. [Miller] brought some crowd with him.”
• This is his first time visiting the New York area. He arrived late last week and did some sightseeing, including visiting the World Trade Center and Sept. 11 Memorial, before coming to the course to prepare for the championship.
• He loves American fast food. "Chipotle, Chick-fil-A, In n Out. If I lived here, I'd probably gain a few pounds."
• He introduced himself to Tiger Woods on Monday for the first time, but got tongue-tied while doing it. "I lost words. I couldn't say anything."
• He wants to play on the PGA Tour some day—"Kiradech says I should wait two years"—but is focused in the short term on trying to make the Presidents Cup team that will play in Australia this December. "I talked to Ernie Els a few weeks ago. It's something that I would love to be part of."
• He has become a bit of a fan favorite at Bethpage, even if the fans can’t pronounce his name. “My first time ever getting a crowd like this, shouting my name. I don’t know how to react to it,” Janewattananond said. “This is my first time for the shouting. They give me some really funny names. I try not to remember it. They did try [to pronounce my name]. It didn’t come out right.”