Limbhasut wins 97th Western Junior

FLOSSMOOR, ILLINOIS (Friday, June 20) – KK Limbhasut put on a dominant performance at Flossmoor Country Club on Friday, and the 54-hole leader never hinted at an ounce of nerves on his way to an eight-shot victory at the 2014 Western Junior Championship.

Limbhasut, 18, of Loma Linda, California, put together his third straight sub-70 round, this time a 3-under 69, to finish at a 10-under 278 total. Nobody came close to challenging that score, with Nick Hardy, of Northbrook, Illinois, and Luis Gagne, of Orlando, Florida, tying for second at 2-under 286.

After lapping the field, Limbhaust did not mince words about his performance.

“This is probably the biggest event I’ve won,” he said. “I have a lot of momentum now going into college.”

Limbhasut will compete for the Cal Bears next year, and, with incredible ball-striking all week combined with a hot putter over the final 36, he demonstrated he is ready for the next level.

The native of Thailand held a two-shot lead heading into the final day and was dead set against offering his playing partners hope. The final group of Limbhasut, Gagne and Dawson Armstrong, of Brentwood, Tennessee, all birdied the first hole—portending an epic battle for the title.

But Armstrong, who will be attending Lipscomb University next fall, would play the remaining holes in 5-over and fall out of contention. For a time, Gagne held his own. The LSU commit mixed in two birdies with two bogeys in the first five holes and was within two of Limbhasut for most of the front nine.

But Gagne missed a four-footer for birdie on seven, and that’s when the man in front of him started rolling.

“The second shot on eight I hit to six feet and that got me going,” Limbhasut said. “I then made a putt on No. 9 and that really got me going.”

Limbhasut made a five-footer for birdie on nine, made another birdie on 10 and lasered his tee shot on 13 to within four feet. He made the putt to reach 10-under and at that point, his lead had grown to six strokes. From there, he parred out and still managed to add two strokes to his lead.

For anybody who has followed Limbhasut’s exploits of late, this performance was wholly unsurprising. In April, he won the Winn Grips Heather Farr Classic and placed second last week at the FJ Invitational, all the while moving up to 13th in the AJGA Polo Golf Rankings.

A victory at the prestigious Western Junior, the nation's oldest junior national golf tournament, should move him into the top 10. Taisei Negishi, of San Diego, California, missed the cut in this event but caddied for Limbhasut over the weekend.

Negishi, a friend of Limbhasut’s, sees that his companion has compiled a very mature, calculated game.

“Look at his golf game, there’s no way he was going to make any big numbers,” Negishi said. “His golf game is just very solid. He hits it down the middle, he knows how to keep it in play, he doesn’t make any stupid mistakes and he executes everything well.”

And Limbhasut hasn’t made himself into an elite player through lack of effort. Born in Thailand, he took up the game at the age of 8, but didn’t immediately start climbing leaderboards. In fact, Limbhasut placed last in his first ever junior event, not that it deterred him.

Instead, he kept working, won his first tournament a year later and soon became the top-ranked junior in Thailand. After telling his father of his dreams to be a professional golfer, his family moved to California, where he started competing against the best junior competition in the world.

And he proved wildly successful year after year, capturing four junior titles from 2010-2013 before adding two more monstrous wins to his haul in 2014.

By 2012, he was being courted by Cal, UCLA and USC, with the Berkley-based university earning his verbal commitment that summer. He signed his national letter of intent to play for the school this past November.

Limbhasut is just one part of a highly touted incoming freshman class for Cal, but his future coaches should be most excited about him.

At Flossmoor, he beat an elite field by eight, finishing at 10-under—astounding to Negishi who believed something around par might win following the first two rounds. And Limbhasut also had the disadvantage of facing the worst conditions early in Tuesday’s first round. Only two players from that morning wave finished within 11 shots of Limbhasut.

The results have shown consistent improvement, as has his game—Limbhasut said his ball-striking is much improved over the past year.

Combined with his work ethic, he likely has one of the highest ceilings of the Class of 2014. But Limbhasut, despite his stated goal of being a professional golfer, is humble about his future in college.

“We’ll see,” Limbhasut said. “It’ll be a big transition for me, so we’ll see when I get there.”

A nice attitude to have for sure, but Negishi is more assertive about his friend's prospects.

“He’ll do really well at Cal,” Negishi said. “He’ll be a big part of the team. I know the team is really big, but I’m pretty sure he’ll be a starting member his freshman year.”

Notes: Defending champion Collin Morikawa, of La Canada Flintridge, California, closed out his tournament with a 6-under 66, tying the day-old course record set by Gagne and Limbhasut. Morikawa finished T14.

For the final round-by-round scores, click here.

-Kevin Casey