It's smiles and laughter for Jeen

It's smiles and laughter for Jeen

Atthaya Thitikul poses for a portrait ahead of the JTBC Classic. (AFP photo)
Atthaya Thitikul poses for a portrait ahead of the JTBC Classic. (AFP photo)

Most golf fans believed an LPGA victory was only a matter of time for Thailand's 19-year-old Atthaya Thitikul and she duly obliged last Sunday on only her fifth outing on the tour in her rookie season.

Her victory at the JTCB Classic in Carlsbad, California, was achieved in some style too.

She shot a brilliant eight-under-par 64 in her final round at Aviara Golf Club before going on to beat Denmark's Nanna Koerstz Madsen at the second play-off hole.

Atthaya had started the day six shots behind Koerstz Madsen.

"It means the world to me," said a beaming Atthaya after her thrilling victory.

"I wanted to win but didn't expect it to come so fast. It's just crazy in my mind right now."

In addition to earning US$225,000 (approx 7.5 million baht) in prize money, the win saw her climb the world rankings to fifth place from her previous 14th position, an astonishing achievement by the youngster.

She is now the sixth Thai to win an LPGA title following in the footsteps of sisters Ariya and Moriya Jutanugarn, Jasmine (Thidapa) Suwannapura, Patty (Paphangkorn) Tavatanakit and Pajaree Annanarukarn.

Also in the top 50 rankings are Patty (14th), Ariya (33rd) and Moriya (40th).

It was a popular victory amongst the LPGA golfing fraternity with Atthaya known for her relaxed demeanour on the course with plenty of smiles and laughter.

"If I take it too seriously I won't win," she once said.

But behind the smiles, there is a strong discipline and determination to win which is so essential for a golfer.

Atthaya, nicknamed "Jeen" or "Jeeno," was raised in Ban Pong, Ratchaburi, and was introduced to golf at the age of six by her grandfather.

She was also talented at tennis but decided to concentrate on golf. That turned out to be a wise decision.

Her amateur career was quite phenomenal, winning 16 titles and it was no surprise she became world No.1 amateur in 2019.

Atthaya's big breakthrough came when she won the 2017 Ladies European Thailand Championship at the age of 14, becoming the youngest-ever winner of a professional golf event.

She would go on to win four Ladies European Tour (LET) events.

She recalls "that win changed my life. It gave me the chance to compete in the British Open and the Evian Championship. It was a dream to play in a major at the age of 14."

Atthaya went on to be the best amateur at the Women's British Open at Royal Lytham in 2018 and at Woburn the following year.

In 2019, she won the Ladies European Thailand Championship for the second time.

In all, she has won four LET events, the last two being in 2021 when she triumphed in the Czech Open and Swiss Open. She also finished fifth at the Evian Championship.

She won the LET Race to Costa del Sol (Order of Merit) and Rookie of the Year titles last year.

She turned professional in January 2020 and in December 2021 won her card for the LPGA Tour after finishing third in the tough qualifying school.

Despite all the distractions, Atthaya hasn't forgotten her roots.

"I am really proud to be Thai and I love playing for my country," she said.

Eight Thais, including defending champion Patty, qualified for the first major of the season at the Chevron Championship which ends this morning, Thai time.

Atthaya got off to a poor start at Mission Hills Country Club but bounced back with two good rounds to stay in contention for a top-10 finish.

It is important that Thai golf fans don't expect too much from Atthaya.

No one can win every week, no matter how good they are. But there is little doubt Jeen will soon be needing a bigger trophy cabinet.

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