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How Atthaya Thitikul became the youngest player to win a pro golf tournament

August 23, 2022
Golf Digest

Mackenzie Stroh

No one in my family plays golf. It wasn’t a popular sport in the small city of Ratchaburi in Thailand where I grew up. 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 mom, 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 found a teacher in Bangkok. It was an hour drive each way, so we went on the weekends. My dad owns a carwash, and my mom is a hairdresser. They worked around their schedules to take me. 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 realized back then that if I got good enough, I could support my family.

When I was 13, I made Thailand’s national team. I got to play in Asia, the States and Europe. I lived at home with my parents and my sister. I went to a normal school, but they let me travel for golf tournaments and camps. It was a bilingual school. We spoke English and Thai. English was my favorite subject.

On the national team, I met my coach, Kris Assawapimonporn. He earned my trust when he made a big change in my swing. My grip was extremely strong, and I could work the ball only in one direction, a draw. He told me if we didn’t make the change, I’d make it to the LPGA Tour, but I wouldn’t make it to the top. He left the choice to me. I did it. It took a full year, but I’m so much better for it.

When the Ladies European Tour (LET) came to Thailand, I played even though I was 14. I became the youngest LET winner when I won the Thailand Championship. The next year, I won the 2018 Women’s Amateur Asia-Pacific Championship, which got me opportunities to play in LPGA Tour events. I finished T-8 at the HSBC and was the low amateur at the Chevron Championship.

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Oisin Keniry/R&A

Still, I saw turning pro wasn’t going to be as easy as I thought. They were more consistent, more skilled. I needed to get stronger and learn more shots around the green. My dad thought I should turn professional when I was 16. He saw my results and knows how competitive I am, but I wasn’t ready.

The next year, I decided it was time, but I wanted to play smaller tours first to get to know different courses and grasses and how to play in different weather before going to the LPGA. The first year I turned pro, COVID hit. I was stuck in Thailand, but I was lucky: My coach was there, and we were able to do a lot of work on my swing.

I played the Thai LPGA Tour in 2020 and won five times. I spent 2021 on the LET, won twice and was rookie of the year. That fall I went to LPGA Q school and never felt more stress. I could feel the attention on me. Carrying that feeling for two weeks was exhausting. The pressure I put on myself is one thing, but adding the pressure others put on me can be too much. I’m still not good at handling pressure. I don’t want other people’s thoughts to change how I feel on the course. Hopefully I’ll keep getting better at it as I get older.

When I got my card, I felt relief. Once that passed, I felt so happy and proud of myself. I just thought what a big year of learning this was going to be.

As a rookie, I didn’t want to base my goals on trophies because I can do everything right, and someone could just play better than me. I want to learn and adapt to make myself as good as possible in the future.

I’m also learning you shouldn’t think about golf 24 hours a day. Rest is as important as training. Keeping my relationships with friends is the key to staying balanced. I like to joke around a lot. My friends would probably say that I’m the baby of the group. Pajaree Anannarukarn is one of my closest friends. A lot of the rookies have become friends, too.

I felt a lot of pride when I won the JTBC Classic in my rookie year. Everyone on tour wants to win. It validated everything I have been doing, the decisions I’ve made and the people I’ve surrounded myself with. In Thailand, more people know me now. I’m not a celebrity, but I know what I’m doing makes my country proud and is getting more people interested in golf.

I’ve been able to achieve my goal of supporting my family. We all live in Bangkok now, but I plan on buying a home in Las Vegas so that I have a place to stay during the season. My next goal is to win a major. I don’t care which one; I’ll take any of them.