He’s preparing for important exams in biology and economics this month and has had to cope with the stress of representing his country at the 31st Southeast Asian Games (SEA) in Vietnam.
It’s a balancing act of frightening proportions, but the deadpan Ratchanon has something to prove.
“It gets a little hard sometimes, but I love the challenge,” he told CNN. “I love to excel at both and prove all doubters wrong.
“Obviously if you’re an athlete you won’t be able to do well in school. I’m trying to change that.”
The victory in the Asian Tour was a new peak in the career of one of the brightest young sports stars. Ratchanon has had a sensational rise since, at just 13 years and four months old, he became the youngest player in All Thailand Golf Tour history in August 2020.
And incredibly, he was painfully close to winning the Asia Tour even earlier, finishing third in his first international pro tournament at the Singapore International in January.
The golf-playing Ratchanon’s origin story reads like a comic book. Having started playing with plastic clubs and balls at the age of three, TK – a nickname that matches his parents’ initials – finished last in his first tournament at four years old.
“I saw the guy win the trophy and I was very, very jealous,” Ratchanon recalls. “I didn’t know why I didn’t get it, so I was very upset. Then my father had to explain to me how he won, so he got the trophy.”
And now, after a month of intense training under the tutelage of an equally competitive, golf-loving father, he had the trophy in his hands on his next attempt.
A year later, at his first World Junior Championships, motivational messages were written on the chairs at each tee. “Winners never give up, and those who give up never win,” read one motto, reflecting Ratchanon’s mentality and work ethic.
His father acts as his caddy as well as a third coach, spending extra hours with his son to build on the lessons of the other two coaches. On days without school, an already intense training regimen takes on a new level, the youngster spends seven to nine hours on the course, honing his skills.
Warned of exhaustion, Ratchanon has begun taking occasional half-days off, spending time on tutoring, physical therapy, or fitness, but ignores any hint of burnout.
“I don’t see this happening. I love golf. I love working out,” Ratchanon said.
“Yes, it’s hard — it hurts and it takes a lot of discipline, but even two months of super hard work just to get one good shot or just a good result, I think it pays off for me.”
And who better to watch Ratchanon rise than fellow countryman Thongchai Jaidi, an Asian tour legend with 20 pro victories. The 52-year-old icon has been helping the youngster with various aspects of his game since they first met in 2019.
When Ratchanon wanted to learn his hero’s spinning counter, the couple spent the next three weeks practicing the technique for six hours a day.
“He helps me a lot in my game. He’s a great guy,” Ratchanon said. “I think he just enjoys helping develop Thai golfers for the future of Thai golf.”
Tongchai also helped shape the mental side of the teen’s game, helping him put in place a routine to overcome performance dips under pressure. Ratchanon now has a method to use at critical moments: slow down, take a sip of water, and rock “without hesitation.”
Asked about the pressure of being labeled “wunderkind” and interacting with the sport’s elite, the 15-year-old simply replies, “I love it.”
“I don’t feel pressure… I’m not afraid to play with good people,” he said.
“No one really forced this on me and I’m very lucky to have a lot of good people around me to help support me and keep me in line.”
stay at school
This attitude helps Ratchanon take things step by step. Eager to take his time with the transition to the professional game, he is focused on finishing school successfully.
“I’ve seen a lot of Thai players go pro early, but now I think a lot of people know that college is worth it,” he said.
“If we become professionals, this is our life. We cannot turn back.”