FARMINGDALE, N.Y. — Pronouncing his name has proved to be difficult for spectators at Bethpage Black, who routinely and boisterously attempt to belt it out. Jazz Janewattananond can only laugh — and smile. He’s having a blast at the PGA Championship.
For reasons that he completely understands, the Thai golfer will hence be referred to by his nickname “Jazz.” Even he refuses to go to the effort to use his surname when signing autographs.
He uses a music sign and the letters a-z-z instead, coming up with that substitute a few years ago when he realized what a chore it was to sign his entire name.
“I can’t do this anymore; so I had to come up with a new way,” Jazz said Saturday after the third of the PGA Championship. “This is the one that kind of sticks.”
Next is sticking at the highest levels of golf.
Jazz, 23, who makes his home in Bangkok, is playing in his first PGA Championship and doing quite well. A 3-under-par 67 Saturday left him in a tie for second, seven shots behind tournament leader Brooks Koepka. The PGA of America invited the three-time winner on the Asian Tour because he is ranked 72nd in the world, and he has responded with rounds of 70, 68 and 67.
“Greatest fun of my life,” said Jazz, who had never been to the East Coast of the United States prior to this week and is making just his second-ever start in a PGA Tour event.
“Arrive here on Monday, it was raining. Tuesday was raining,” he said. “The course plays so tough because the rough was so long, the ball don’t go anywhere. I was having a nightmare. How am I going to play this golf course? I’m not going to break 80. This exceeds my expectations already.”
Jazz plays on the Asian Tour, where he won the SMBC Singapore Open earlier this season, beating the likes of Paul Casey by two strokes. He also finished third at the Maybank Championship and fourth at the New Zealand Open and leads the tour’s money list.
Ranked 72nd in the world, Jazz could earn an exemption in next month’s U.S. Open if he moves into the top 60 by the end of this tournament (or again the week prior to the U.S. Open). Getting in the top 50 by May 27 would earn him a spot at The Open at Royal Portrush.
And finishing among the top four here would earn him a spot in the Masters next year.
Jazz was unaware of that latter fact, based on the way he answered questions about it. His goals are to one day play the PGA Tour in America, but first he wants to stay on his home tour, hoping to qualify for the Olympic Golf Tournament next year as well as the Presidents Cup later this year.
A pro since 2010, Jazz explained that amateur golf in Thailand is so sparse that it made sense to join the professional ranks.
“Once a month is good and sometimes we don’t have it for three or four months,” he said. “So turning pro helps you get into more tournaments.”
At the end of the 2016 season, Jazz — a nickname given to him by his father; his real first name is Atiwit — spent two weeks as a monk. He said doing so is expected of any Buddhist in Thailand upon turning 21.
— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) May 18, 2019
“I didn’t expect it to be better for myself, but it turns out it makes me more peaceful, not trying as hard on the golf course because there’s so many other big things around our lives,” he said.
He’s enjoyed the big crowds, the banter, the booing and the cheering. He hired a local caddie, Jack Miller, who has helped guide him around the course, even if there is sometimes a communication barrier.
“I’m finding it hard to understand his New York accent,” Jazz joked.
He’s also taken guidance from Kiradech Aphibarnrat, a 29-year-old Thai golfer who has four European Tour wins and is ranked 41st in the world and plays the PGA Tour as well as in Europe and Asia.
“Kiradech is like my big brother,” Jazz said. “It’s great to see him playing well out here. He’s taught me a lot of things. He said to give it another two years (before trying to make it on the PGA Tour).”
The youngest player to make a cut on the Asian Tour at age 14, Jazz’s first victory came in 2017 at the Bangladesh Open. It’s been a steady climb up the rankings since then.
He has used the opportunity to visit New York City for the first time, congratulate Tiger Woods on his Masters victory — although he was too nervous to actually properly introduce himself — and attempt, at least, to help people learn how to pronounce his last name. (By the way, it’s Jane-what-a-NAN-ond)
And with one more day of solid golf, he might just make a name for himself.