PGA crowd ‘loves me,’ says the Thai Jazzman

© John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Art Spander

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. — He’s not going to win. The PGA Championship, that is. But he’s winning friends. Which is as rewarding as a birdie putt. “People shouting ‘love you,’” said Jazz Janewattananond. “They love me.”

Probably as much for his name as his game.

New Yorkers have seen it all, heard it all, so they tell us, but until this tournament out on Long Island, at Bethpage Black, the second major of 2019, they hadn’t seen anything like Janewattananond.

Nor heard a name like his.

His surname is pronounced JANNA-watta-NON-nond. His given name is Atiwit. But as Eldrick Woods was nicknamed Tiger, so Atiwit was called Jazz by a music-loving father.

This PGA, the 101st, surely will belong to Brooks Koepka, who with his power off the tee and his touch on the greens seems determined to take over golf the way his playing partner the first two rounds, Tiger, once did.

Koepka is 12-under-par 198 for 54 holes after an even-par 70 on Saturday.

So the issue is who will come in second, and into Sunday’s final round there are four players tied at 5-under 205: Dustin Johnson, Harold Varner, Luke List and the “Jazzman,” Janewattananond.

He’s from Thailand, as you might have surmised. Now 23, Jazz turned pro at 15, recorded the first of his three victories on the Asian and European tours when he was 21 and spent two weeks as a monk, shaving his head. He said that accomplishment helped give him peace when he plays golf.

Jazz was a special invitee by the PGA of America — he’s 72nd in the world rankings — and obviously was very deserving of the selection.

He played in the Colonial at Forth Worth a couple years ago, and he is working with a local caddy, Jack Miller, who once was a regular at Bethpage but now at 63 is more of an advisor.

“It’s good, it’s good, it’s great,” Jazz told Mark Hermann, the columnist for Newsday. “Sometimes I’m finding it hard to understand his New York accent.”

Which doesn’t make him much different than many visitors.

At only 5-foot-9, Janewattananond isn’t able to keep up with the boomers, Koepka and Johnson, but he compensates with an impressive short game. Chipping and putting can never be underestimated, no matter how long or short you hit the golf ball.

“He knows what he’s doing,” said Miller the caddy. That should be apparent from the score. He’s ahead of Jordan Spieth and Adam Scott, two major champions.

“Arrive here on Monday, it was raining,” said Jazz. “Tuesday was raining. 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 expectation already.”

Nobody really knows what to expect. Who would have guessed Tiger would miss the cut?

New York fans are never silent. They’ll trash you it they don’t like your attitude or your game. They’ll also embrace you. Jazz may not rank with the Yankees, but he’s up there.

“They trying to say my last name,” he said of comments from the big galleries. “I heard all sorts. Some pretty good ones. I don't want to remember it. ... I heard some really funny ones. So, yeah, keep it coming.”

Janewattananond kept it going. His 3-under 67 tied Varner for low round of the day. The crowd has adopted him as their new guy. As the lyrics go, if you make it here you can make it anywhere.

Jazz has a friend in New Jersey who showed him around.

“Take me out to see all of Manhattan, what's it all about,” Jazz explained. “Kind of a wow moment. Maybe I didn't get over that. I didn't feel the pressure on the golf course.”

No pressure, but plenty of love. Can’t beat that combination.