He might have begun the 2010 season as a relative unknown outside Asia but by the time he was crowned as the new European Senior Tour Number One, Boonchu Ruangkit was no longer in need of an introduction.
Four victories and a host of records ensured that the player considered to be ‘The Godfather’ of Thai golf won not only the Senior Tour Order of Merit, but also the respect and admiration of his illustrious peers.
Never without a smile on his face, Ruangkit’s relentless birdie charges came to define the 2010 season, as he succeeded two former Ryder Cup Captains, Ian Woosnam (2008) and Sam Torrance (2009) as recipient of the coveted John Jacobs Trophy with season earnings of €266,609.
“I’m so proud to follow great players like Ian and Sam,” he said. “This is a big moment for me in my career. They are household names and it’s great that a Thai player can come and win like this on the European Senior Tour. Hopefully this win will help inspire other Thai players. I’m the first Asian golfer to do this but I think there will be more over the next few years.”
Given the dominance that Torrance, Woosnam and all-time leading Senior Tour money winner Carl Mason exerted on the Order of Merit over the previous seven campaigns, few observers would have foreseen their stranglehold being broken so spectacularly. Fewer still could have predicted that it would be the unheralded Ruangkit, a former kickboxer, who would knock down the Senior Tour heavyweights.
Not even a member of the Tour when took his place in the field for the second event of the season, The Aberdeen Brunei Senior Masters presented by The Stapleford Forum, the 54 year old announced himself on the scene in dramatic fashion, defeating Frankie Minoza of the Philippines on the second extra hole.
If that was an auspicious start, better still was to follow in the next event as, buoyed by his maiden triumph, Ruangkit bulldozed his way to a second title by a Senior Tour record margin of 11 shots in front of his home supporters in the inaugural Chang Thailand Senior Masters presented by ISPS.
His 21 under par total of 195 was also the lowest in Senior Tour history as he hit the top of the Order of Merit for the first time, given that his Brunei victory as a non-member did not count towards the money list.
Ruangkit did not have to wait long for his next record, however, becoming the quickest player to win three times on the Senior Tour when he recovered from a second round 78 to complete his hat-trick, two weeks later, in the Berenberg Bank Masters in South Africa.
A perceived adversity to playing in the colder climes brought some self-doubt as to his Order of Merit credentials, but a share of second place finish in the Handa Senior Masters presented by The Stapleford Forum, the first event of the season on European soil, hinted that Ruangkit would also be a durable, as well as a potent force.
Further top ten finishes came in the Bad Ragaz PGA Seniors Open and the Travis Perkins plc Senior Masters, before he placed one hand on the Order of Merit crown with his first career victory in Europe, and fourth win of the season, in the Benahavis Senior Masters in Marbella in October.
The Thai player then returned to Spain to grasp the John Jacobs Trophy with both hands in the OKI Castellón Senior Tour Championship, producing another characteristic birdie flurry in a final round 65 to finish in a share of eighth place in season’s final event. He ended the campaign €39,259 clear of South African Chris Williams – a margin that would have been even greater had his prize money of €44,332 from Brunei counted.
“I had no expectations at all coming into this season,” he said. “I just wanted to play well. I thought I could maybe win once but I never thought I could do it four times. This has been the best year of my career.”
Williams did not enjoy a victory in 2010 but showed a remarkable level of consistency during the season, finishing in the top ten 12 times from his 19 outings to amass €197,352 in earnings, while third placed Angel Franco of Paraguay garnered €188,635, helped largely by nine top ten finishes from his 18 tournaments.
The season, however, belonged to Ruangkit. He took up the sport as a teenager and, after joining the services, honed his game at the Royal Army Course. A brief flirtation with a career in kickboxing followed but that ended abruptly when he was knocked out cold in just his third bout, convincing him to concentrate on golf, and he turned professional at the age of 30.
Kickboxing’s loss was undoubtedly golf’s gain. Ruangkit flourished with age and experience and he soon learned how to deliver knockout blows of his own on the fairways, winning five times on the Asian Tour - including the Thailand Open for the second time in his career at the age of 47 – and finishing runner on the Asian Tour Order of Merit in 1997.
Having won the US Champions Tour Qualifying School in 2006, Ruangkit appeared destined for a Senior career on the other side of the Pond but he struggled to adapt to life in America, while he was also hampered by a finger injury.
Surgery rectified the latter problem and enabled him, at 53 years and 82 days, to almost become the oldest winner in Asian Tour history, losing in a play-off to Australian Darren Beck at the Brunei Open in 2009.
He was, however, to get his hands on a trophy when he returned to the Empire Hotel and Country Club in Brunei in March, landing the killer punch in the play-off with Minoza to claim a maiden Senior Tour victory that sparked his most memorable of years.
Unsurprisingly Ruangkit, who is also Chairman of the Thailand PGA, picked up the Senior Tour Rookie of the Year Award too and, after Kevin Spurgeon had claimed his own maiden title in the season opening Mauritius Commercial Bank Open, the pair set something of a trend for first time winners in 2010.
Former Ryder Cup players Gordon Brand Jnr and Barry Lane captured their respective first titles in the Matrix Jersey Classic and Cleveland Golf/Srixon Scottish Seniors Open, the former success helping Brand Jnr reach a career high of fourth on the Order of Merit, while Marc Farry also made the transition from European Tour winner to Senior Tour champion, claiming both the Handa Irish Senior Open presented by Fáilte Ireland and the Cannes Mougins Masters – an event the Frenchman helped promote.
Other first time champions included George Ryall and Domingo Hospital, winners of two events which appeared on the schedule for the first time in 2010 – the Van Lanschot Senior Open and Sicilian Senior Open respectively; David J Russell, who after nine runner up finishes captured the De Vere Collection PGA Seniors Championship; and Gary Wolstenholme, one of Great Britain and Ireland’s most successful amateurs who triumphed on just his second Senior Tour appearance in the lucrative Casa Serena Open.
Elsewhere, several players continued their winning ways, none more so that Bernhard Langer, the two time Masters Tournament winner and former Ryder Cup Captain, who ended his search for a Senior Major in spectacular style, winning The Senior Open Championship presented by MasterCard at Carnoustie, holding off Corey Pavin in the process, before crossing the Atlantic to win the US Senior Open in Seattle the following week. It was the highlight of an exceptional year for the German who also continued his domination of the US Champions Tour, not only topping the Schwab Cup points race for the first time but also winning Player of the Year and Money List honours for the third consecutive season.
Another former Ryder Cup Captain, Tom Lehman, landed the season’s first Senior Major when he edged out Fred Couples and David Frost in a play-off to win the US Senior PGA Championship in Colorado, while other men to enjoy the feel of silverware in their hands on a Sunday night were Bill Longmuir (Handa Senior Masters presented by The Stapleford Forum), John Bland (Ryder Cup Wales Seniors Open), Des Smyth (Travis Perkins plc Senior Masters) and Mike Cunning, who brought the curtain down on the season with his victory in the OKI Castellón Senior Tour Championship.
There was also an historic 23rd Senior Tour title for the prolific Carl Mason in the Bad Ragaz PGA Seniors Open, as the Englishman equalled Tommy Horton’s ten year old record for the most victories on Tour, on his way to completing the top five on the 2010 Order of Merit.
While that remarkable benchmark might be out of Boonchu Ruangkit’s reach for the foreseeable future, the Thai’s own achievements would imply that his defence of the John Jacobs Trophy in 2011 might be somewhat harder to breach than his guard in the boxing ring.
The European Tour
Reproduced from The 2011 European Tour Yearbook and you can order your copy here