For the last half a decade or so, the Jutanugarn sisters have been the standout Thai golfers on the LPGA Tour. Ariya reached world No. 1 in 2017, and both she and her sister, Moriya, have won multiple times on the LPGA.
But neither Jutanugarn has won since 2021. Taking over the spot as highest-ranked Thai player on the Rolex World Rankings is a rookie, Atthaya Thitikul, just 19, but already knows a lot about winning. The tour rookie prevailed in a playoff with Danielle Kang at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship, a 54-hole event, to secure her second LPGA victory.
Thitikul grew up in Rachiburi, Thailand, not an area known for golf, in a family of non-golfers. She was constantly ill as a child, experiencing colds frequently enough that a doctor prescribed more time outdoors and physical activity as the antidote. The doctor gave her two options: Golf or tennis. After watching videos of both, and seeing how much running was involved in tennis, Thitikul, 6 at the time, chose golf.
When she was 14, she played in a Ladies European Tour event, the Thailand Championship. She won, becoming the youngest player ever to win a professional tournament. The next season, she won on the LET as an amateur again. She turned pro, won two more LET events and got her LPGA Tour card for 2022 via Q school.
Though winning on other tours doesn’t guarantee you’ll win on the LPGA, Thitikul announced her arrival in March by winning the JTBC Classic presented by Barbasol, also in a playoff. In 2022, she’s had 11 top 10s, including the two wins, and has missed just one cut. She’s not just one of the best players to ever come out of Thailand, she’s now one of the best players in the world. With this recent win, she’s projected to rise to No. 4 in the world.
But even though Thitikul has won a lot, she maintains that winning is hard, no matter how many times you’ve done it.
“I just feel like playing golf with Danielle [Kang] is kind of tough as well because she is pretty great player, won a lot on LPGA Tour already,” Thitikul said.
Kang made it tough, indeed, on Thitikul. On the 18th hole in regulation, Kang holed a chip for eagle, going from one shot back to one shot ahead. Thitikul, who had no idea what happened ahead of her, still answered almost instantaneously, draining a long birdie putt on 17 to tie Kang.
On the reachable par 5 18th, though, Thitikul put herself behind a tree off the tee, forcing a layup. It resulted in a par, and the two went to their first playoff hole. After halving with pars, Thitikul birdied the second playoff hole to earn the second win of her young career.
“It means a lot to me as well to get my second win, because like it seems like you prove that you can do it,” Thitikul said.