Atiwit “Jazz” Janewattananond composed sweet music Saturday at the PGA Championship, shooting a 3-under 67 to climb into a 4-way tie for 2nd place. Though seven strokes behind probable champion Brooks Koepka, the 23-year old Thai golfer has earned the affection of those in attendance at Bethpage Black.
“Greatest fun of my life,” he said of his first three rounds. “People keep shouting, ‘Love you.’ They love me here.”
Don’t expect Janewattananond to get a big head. He spent two weeks with the Buddhist monkhood in 2016, who values humility as “a moral precept.” It’s not clear if he fully practices Buddhism, but he talked about his experience at a temple in Chiang Rai.
“Every Thai or every Buddhist, if you’re that religion, you have to go and do it when you turn 21 and I did that,” he said on the European Tour site. “I didn’t expect it to be better for myself but it turns out it made me more peaceful, not trying as hard on the golf course because there’s so many other big things around our lives.”
His mentor was Phra Maha Vudhijaya Vajiramedhi (per Bunkered), who imparted a new mindset to the young golfer.
“I learned from him that happiness is the greatest thing in life,” Janewattananond told Thai media in 2017. “Before that, golf was everything to me, and it gave me so much pressure during competition. I have been competing with less pressure ever since and starting getting better results.”
Shortly after his sabbatical, he won the Bashundhara Bangladesh Open in February 2017, his first event on the Asian Tour. He has two other titles on the tour between the 2018 Queen’s Cup and the 2018 Singapore Open. He also holds three victories from the All Thailand Golf Tour and another from the MENA Golf Tour.
The 5-foot-9, 150-pounder currently ranks No. 72 in the world. According to Yahoo Sports, he has collected over $505,000 in prize winnings since turning pro in 2010 as a 14-year old. His time at Chiang Rai taught him to share those earnings.
“I was instructed by the monk to learn to give,” he said. “So I start making merit and donating some of my prize money to needy children and charity. When you have more than enough, it’s better to share it with others who are in difficulties.”
Should he finish alone in second place, he would see a payout of $1.12 million. Fifth place would get him $450,500.
For now, he’s just looking to enjoy himself at Bethpage Black, the biggest stage of his early career. The struggles to pronounce his last name (JANNA’-watta-NON’-nond) have made him laugh.
“My first time ever getting a crowd like this, shouting my name,” he said. “I don’t know how to react to it.” 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.”
He tees off his partner Luke List a 2:25 p.m. EST on CBS.