Atthaya the toast of Thai athletes

Atthaya the toast of Thai athletes

Young golfer stood out by a mile in a year which did not produce many local heroes

Only a handful of Thai athletes were successful on the international stage in 2022 and young golfer Atthaya Thitikul stood out among her compatriots.

In her first season on the LPGA Tour, the 19-year-old prodigy won two events -- the JTBC Classic and the NW Arkansas Championship.

Thanks to the victories, the world No.2 from Ratchaburi won the points-based LPGA Rookie of the Year award to become the third Thai to claim the honours after Patty Tavatanakit (2021) and Moriya Jutanugarn (2013).

"I'm happy to have made my country proud," she said after being assured of the award with two tournaments left in the season.

"My rookie year has been really fun and memorable."

It's undoubtedly a memorable year for the teenage phenom.

Her first victory came in March at the JTBC Classic at Aviara Golf Club in Carlsbad, California in her only fifth LPGA Tour start.

She defeated Nanna Koerstz Madsen of Denmark in a play-off.

"It means the world to me. I know my parents and coaches back home are watching me now. It's meaningful to all of us not just me," Atthaya said after her breakthrough victory.

She earned her second title in September at the NW Arkansas Championship with another play-off triumph over Danielle Kang of the US at Pinnacle Country Club.

She became the second-youngest world No.1 in women's golf history on Oct 31, when she supplanted South Korea's Ko Jin-Young.

New Zealand's Lydia Ko was 17 when she first topped the rankings in 2015.

Atthaya is the second Thai to reach the top of the world rankings after Ariya Jutanugarn.

"It means a lot for my team, my family, my supporters and myself," said Atthaya.

"It is such an honour to have my name at the top amongst the biggest names of the game. I will continue to work hard for my family, my team, my fans and my country."

This year, she had the highest number of birdies on the LPGA Tour (450) and top-10 finishes (16).

Golfer Atthaya Thitikul poses with the LPGA Rookie of the Year trophy. (Photo: AFP)

In the major championships, she had two top-10 finishes -- fourth at the Women's PGA Championship and T7 at the Women's British Open.

Atthaya's rise in the professional ranks follows an outstanding amateur career that saw her become the youngest person ever to win a professional tournament at the 2017 Ladies European Thailand Championship at 14 years, four months and 19 days.

She won the event again in 2019 before turning professional in 2020.

Prior to her rookie season on the LPGA Tour, Atthaya won Rookie of the Year and Player of the Year honours and the Race to Costa del Sol on the Ladies European Tour (LET) in 2021 after two wins.

History-making rider

Somkiat Chantra, who turned 24 on Dec 15, raced to a historic maiden Moto2 victory at the Indonesian Grand Prix.

Somkiat, of Idemitsu Honda Team Asia, became the first Thai rider to win any class of grand prix racing after he clocked a time of 25 minutes 40.876 seconds, 3.230sec ahead of second-placed Celestino Vietti of Italy.

Somkiat shot from fourth on the grid to dominate a Moto2 race that was shortened from 25 to 16 laps due to safety concerns over track conditions in the extreme Indonesian heat that hit 43C.

"I am very happy to win the title," said Somkiat of Chon Buri.

"I took a look at the track before the race and felt OK. Although it was more difficult during the race, I finally won it."

Somkiat also claimed three other podium finishes this season.

Somkiat finished second in Austria and Argentina and third at Le Mans, and was 10th in the world championship standings.

"I did better than my pre-season target," he said after his fourth season in the world championship.

"I feel that I have made progress with victory in Indonesia. I am confident that I will be ready for the battle for the [Moto2] world title in 2023."

Faster than Bolt

Sprinter Puripol Boonson reacts after winning the 200m title at the SEA Games. (Photo: Reuters)

Sprinter Puripol Boonson, 16, was one of the youngest athletes at this year's SEA Games but ended his campaign in Vietnam as one of the brightest stars.

He won three golds medals in the men's 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay to underline his status as a possible global sprint star of the future.

Puripol of Samut Prakan twice broke the SEA Games 200m record, his best time of 20.37secs sealing his first gold.

"My target is to try and consistently improve my record and break my own record," Puripol said.

The reigning fastest man in Southeast Asia, whose career best over 100m is 10.19sec, has been compared to retired sprint king Usain Bolt.

"I have never seen someone from Asia move like that and at that age," said retired sprinter UK Shyam, Singapore's 100m national record-holder, according to The Straits Times. "Just think: his time means he's faster than Usain Bolt was when Bolt was at 16."

Puripol burst onto the scene at the National Games in March when he swept the 100m and 200m titles and set new records in both events.

He clocked 10.19sec to break Thailand's record of 10.23sec set by Reanchai Sihawong at the 1998 Asian Games.

In the 200m, Puripol crossed the line in 20.58sec, breaking the national mark of 20.69sec set by Reanchai at the 1999 SEA Games.

Badminton stars Nuntakarn, right, and Benyapa Aimsaard gesture during the BWF World Tour Finals.

'The next superstar'

Ratchanon "TK" Chantananuwat, Thailand's teenage golf sensation, finally achieved the impossible when he claimed the US$750,000 Trust Golf Asian Mixed Cup -- becoming the youngest male player to win on one of the game's major tours, the Asian Tour said in an article.

The teenager sealed the victory at Siam Country Club in Pattaya in an event co-sanctioned by the Asian Tour and the Ladies European Tour in April.

Ratchanon at 15 years old and 37 days old improved upon the previous best youngest winner mark set by Japan's Ryo Ishikawa, who was 15 years and eight months when won the Japan Tour's 2007 Munsingwear Open KSB Cup.

On the Asian Tour, Thailand's Chinnarat Phadungsil was the previous youngest champion, having claimed the 2005 Double A International Open when he was 17 years and five days old.

Ratchanon has become an international star since his fine performances on the Asian Tour late in 2021.

His achievement prompted LIV Golf to invite him to take part in its inaugural event.

"He's the next superstar. We're giving that opportunity to that kid or an amateur to come in here to have that opportunity," said LIV Golf chief Greg Norman.

Badminton sisters

The Aimsaard sisters, Benyapa and Nuntakarn, aged 20 and 23 respectively, were not familiar faces on the Badminton World Federation (BWF) World Tour before the start of this season.

With their women's doubles title win at the India Open, the Aimsaards began the year on an auspicious note, and eventually proved they belonged in the top league, said an article on the BWF website.

Runners-up at the Korea and Australian Opens, and winners in Vietnam and the Hylo Open in Germany, the Thais enjoyed a meteoric rise in 2022.

They defeated their senior compatriots Jongkolphan Kititharakul and Rawinda Prajongjai in the Hylo Open title match.

The sisters came close to winning the title at the season-ending BWF World Tour Finals in Bangkok earlier this month when they lost to China's Chen Qingchen and Jia Yifan 21-13, 21-14 in the title showdown.

Golfer Ratchanon Chantananuwat holds the Asian Mixed Cup trophy.(Photo: AFP)

The sisters had defeated Jeong Na-Eun and Kim Hye-Jeong of South Korea twice on their way to the final.

"They showed great improvement this year," said Thai badminton chief Patama Leeswadtrakul.

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