Southern Miss golfer Thongpipat”Pat” Rattanayanon hails from Bangkok, Thailand. He is one of dozens of foreign golfers in the Sun Belt Championship at Annandale Golf Club this week. Credit: Southern Miss athletics

MADISON — So there was Thongpipat Rattanayan – not so easy for me to type – on the par-4 third hole at Jack Nicklaus-designed Annandale Golf Club Tuesday morning. He was exactly 82 yards from the hole and approximately 10,000 miles from his home in Bangkok, Thailand.

Rattanayan, who thankfully goes by Pat, took out his trusty lob wedge, took dead aim and took an easy, compact swing.

“I knew it was close,” he would say in perfectly good English about three and a half hours later. “I didn’t know how close because that big bunker in front of the green was blocking my view.”

Rick Cleveland

Somebody behind the green hollered, “It went in the hole!”

Said Rattanayan, “I said to myself, ‘What? It went in! Really?’”

Really. The resulting eagle deuce was easily the highlight of his day as Rattanayan, a senior at Southern Miss, shot a one-over-par 73 in the second round of the Sun Belt Conference Golf Championship.

And there was Robbie Latter, on the par-5 18th at Annandale nearly 200 yards from the hole and about 1,200 miles from his Canadian home in Missauga, Ontario, after his booming 345-yard drive. Latter, another 22-year-old USM senior, laced a 6-iron second shot that never left the pin. The ball bounced once, missed by perhaps three inches, and then trickled about 10 feet past the hole. Latter sank the eagle putt to finish a round of even-par 72.

Latter, even par after 36 holes, is tied for sixth place (of 70 golfers) individually going into Wednesday’s third and final stroke play round of the Sun Belt event. Southern Miss, the tournament host, is tied for fourth in the 14-team tournament. After Wednesday’s third round, the top four teams will enter match play to determine the conference champion on Thursday.

Southern Miss needs a strong finish in the conference championship to advance to the 64-team NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history.

Said Golden Eagle coach Eddie Brescher, “We’re on the bubble now, but if we have a good showing tomorrow, I believe we’ll be in.”

Ole Miss and Mississippi State are both nationally ranked and already have punched their tickets into the NCAA Tournament. State’s roster includes players from Portugal, Switzerland, England, Poland and South Africa. Two Swedes and another player from Thailand play for Rebels. College golf in Mississippi, as well most everywhere else, is an international affair.

“My guess is that if you take the entirety of Division I golf, probably 50% of the players are foreign players,” Brescher said. “In the Sun Belt, I’m not sure it’s not more like two-thirds are imports.”

On the Sun Belt leaderboard, the top 10 and ties include two Swedes and also golfers from England, Canada, South Africa and Slovenia.

“If you’re going to be competitive, you gotta get the best players you can get wherever you can get them,” Brescher said. “Three of our five players here are international. Four of the eight on our roster are international, and I can promise you we have more on the way.”

So, you might ask, how does a player named Thongpipat Rattanyan from Bangkok find his way to Hattiesburg, Mississippi? 

“In Thailand, there is no college golf,” Rattanyan said. “You either turn pro after high school or you come to the U.S. to play college golf.”

When Rattanyan was 16, he decided he wanted to come to the U.S. He flew to San Diego to play in a big international junior tournament, which Brescher attended. Said Rattanyan, “I played terrible in that tournament, but I did talk to Coach Brescher.”

Canadian Robbie Latter eagled the 18th hole at Annandale Tuesday for Southern Miss. Credit: Southern Miss athletics

Brescher liked what he heard from Rattanyan and did his homework to learn that the Bangkok teen was capable of playing much better golf than he had in San Diego. And “Pat” surely has. For four years, he has been one of USM’s steadiest players and also best students. He will graduate next month with a degree in marketing. His parents will attend his graduation, visiting Hattiesburg for the first time. Because of COVID, “Pat” has another year of eligibility, which he intends to use, and start work toward earning an MBA.

“Let me tell you something about Pat,” Brescher said. “He’s as good as gold. If you have a daughter, I promise you, you would be really happy if she were to marry Pat. He’s as solid as they come.”

Latter, one of the longest hitters in college golf, plans to play a fifth season at USM as well. “I love Hattiesburg, love everything about it,” Latter said.

He loves it so much, he enticed his younger, 6-foot-7-inch brother, Tommy Latter, a freshman, to follow him to Southern Miss. “Tommy hits is farther than I do,” he said.

And that’s not all. The Latters’ parents, Rob and Ann Latter, plan to retire to Hattiesburg in the near future. Said Robbie Latter, “My parents had always planned to retire to Florida, but that’s changed after they have been to Hattiesburg. They love the place.”

Meanwhile, Robbie Latter may well have a future in golf beyond college. Again, he hits it a mile. He finished runner-up last summer in the Canadian Amateur championship. If he can fine-tune his iron game and his putting – to go with his monster drives – he could make a living in golf.

That’s to be determined. A nice first step toward all that could come Wednesday, and perhaps Thursday, at Annandale, where golfers from all over the globe are making their mark.

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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.