The rise and rise of Thai wonder girl Atthaya
Atthaya Thitikul was one of the most outstanding players on the LPGA Tour last year.
The Ratchaburi native, then 19, claimed two titles and won the LPGA Rookie of the Year award.
Atthaya also shot to the top of the world rankings, becoming the only second Thai golfer to achieve the feat after Ariya Jutanugarn. She was ranked fourth at the end of last month.
The young Thai won a play-off duel with Denmark’s Nanna Koerstz Madsen to capture the JTBC Classic in March for her first LPGA crown at Aviara Golf Club in Carlsbad, California, in only her fifth tour start.
“It’s just crazy,” said Atthaya, who is affectionately called Jeen or Jeeno by the media and fans.
“I cannot believe that I’ve become LPGA winner. It feels amazing as well.”
In September, she sealed another play-off win for her second LPGA title.
Atthaya rolled in a birdie putt at the second play-off hole to edge Danielle Kang of the US at the NW Arkansas Championship at Pinnacle Country Club.
She reached No.1 in the world rankings in October.
Atthaya is still only the second player under age 20 (19 years, eight months and 11 days) to be No.1, joining Lydia Ko of New Zealand who was 17 years, nine months and eight days when she first reached No.1 in February 2015.
“It is such an honour to have my name at the top amongst the biggest names of the game,” said Atthaya.
“It is very special to get to the top. I still have a lot to learn from all the legends and current players both on and off the course. I will continue to work hard for my family, my team, my fans and my country.”
Atthaya was the No.1-ranked amateur for 12 weeks in 2019 when she was 16.
She began her rise on the international stage in 2017 when she became the youngest player ever to win a professional golf tournament.
She took the title at the Ladies European Tour’s (LET) Thailand Championship as an amateur at the age of 14 years, four months and 19 days.
Atthaya won the tournament again in 2019.
Meanwhile in 2017, she won the individual and team gold medals at the SEA Games.
In 2018, she won the Women’s Amateur Asia-Pacific title, and then teamed with Vanchai Luangnitikul to win the mixed team gold medal for Thailand at the Youth Olympics.
Prior to joining the LPGA Tour, Atthaya became the youngest player ever to win the LET’s Race to Costa del Sol, also secured the circuit’s Player of the Year and Rookie of the year honours.
She turned pro in January 2020, at the age of 16.
The month she turned 17, Atthaya finished fourth in the Women’s New South Wales Open in Australia.
Then Covid-19 hit the world and she returned home to Thailand where she won five times on the domestic circuit.
In May 2021, she finished second in the Honda LPGA Thailand, a shot behind Ariya.
That finish and an easing of travel restrictions prompted her to head to Europe for a season on the LET.
The Thai also has a compelling personal story.
“No one in my family plays golf,” Atthaya told Golf Digest.
“As a child, I was sick a lot. It wasn’t anything serious, but I got colds constantly. A doctor told my dad, Montree, and my mum, Siriwan, that I needed to play a sport — either golf or tennis — so I’d be outside, and I could control my own schedule.
“We watched golf on TV, and I chose that over tennis. Tennis requires too much running.
“My dad owns a car wash, and my mum is a hairdresser. They worked around their schedules to take me [to golf courses].
“I liked golf immediately. It was challenging and fun, and there were other kids to play with.
“At 10, I knew I loved golf and competing. I also realised back then that if I got good enough, I could support my family.”
She said she always wanted to be the same person. “No matter where I am [whether it’s] No.1 in the world, No.2, 3, 4, 5, 100, 1,000, I want to be same [person],” Atthaya said after becoming world No.1 last year.
“I want to be the same as before, not changing myself. I want to have fun, not really taking [golf] too seriously.
“I don’t want to think about myself like a superstar or act like I’m No.1 in the world.”