MADISON, Wisc. — The leaderboard was crowded throughout the final round Sunday during the PGA Tour Champions’ American Family Insurance Championship at University Ridge. At one point, nine golfers were tied for first.
Thongchai Jaidee, a former paratrooper in the Royal Thai Army, calmly waited for his opportunity and then pounced to the claim the title.
Jaidee took sole possession of the lead with a birdie putt from around 20 feet on No. 17. He then made par on the 18th hole to become the first player from Thailand to win on the senior circuit.
He won with a 14-under 202 total after shooting a 68 on Sunday.
“I’m very, very happy to be on tour the more important thing I think. I think thank you to my caddie, the important more thing, too, because he helped me a lot. It’s family support, my sponsor support me for whole life, that’s more important things,” Jaidee said after his round. “Great tournament here. I played solid, solid, solid week.”
Much to the delight of local fans, Jerry Kelly and Steve Stricker vaulted themselves into contention on the final day with strong play.
Kelly had three birdies on his front nine and was tied for the lead, but he couldn’t pull off his third straight victory in the event.
Kelly carded a 5-under 67 and finished two shots behind Jaidee, but he lamented missing three birdie putts on Nos. 16-18.
“I struck it well,” Kelly said. “I putted well; they just didn’t go in this time. I gave myself some good looks.
“I come into this week every year thinking, yeah, this is going to be my year, I want to knock this one off, and then I always end up here trying to rally at the very end,” Stricker said. “I’ve got to get off to better starts.”
Stricker will get a week to rest before the U.S. Senior Open Championship at Saucon Valley Country Club in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. It’s been an eventful year for Stricker with a Ryder Cup victory, a mysterious illness and then a golf comeback that included a major victory in the Regions Tradition in May.
“I’ve got a different perspective on life and all sorts of different things now,” Stricker said. “I still have some battles to kind of get over. I’ve still got to get stronger and continue to work on that part of it.
“I’m just thankful to be able to do this, to be able to continue to play, something that I really love to do. And yeah, so it’s come a long ways and the ups and the downs in these last six months were something else, but I’m glad where I’m at now.”