This tour pro can lose this week and still make LPGA history

November 18, 2023

Michael Reaves

NAPLES, Fla. — The only competitive award race remaining on the LPGA Tour could have a historic finish on Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship. Atthaya Thitikul, the current leader for the Vare Trophy that goes to the player with the best season scoring average, held a minuscule .013 lead over Hyo Joo Kim entering the week. Thitikul is averaging 69.676, while Kim is at 69.689, and according to LPGA projections, the battle for the award is basically winner-take-all for whoever beats the other this week.

However, if Thitikul, at 11 under par through two rounds and holding a three-stroke advantage over Kim, goes on to win the Vare, the accomplishment would also result in some unusual history. No player in the award's 70-year historyhas had the lowest scoring average on tour without grabbing a victory that season. Of course, Thitkul is only three strokes off the lead with 36 holes to play, so winning the tournament and the Vare race is still a distinct possibility.

"I had a pretty good year so far, some close to the win, but I didn't get the job done yet this year," Thitikul said. "I mean, [winning the Vare] shows that consistency. It's pretty important as well I would say. But getting the win, it's pretty nice."

Thitikul, 20, is a fitting candidate to pull off the historic feat, as she is arguably the most consistent player on tour since joining the LPGA last season. She has finished in the top 10 in 60.8 percent of her starts since 2022, with an impressive haul of 28 top-10 finishes. And she’s in position for another top 10 this week, sitting at T-6 at the CME through two rounds. She would also join Ariya Jutanugarn, who won the Vare in 2018, as the only two Thai players to win the award.

Thitikul explained that she has yet to look at any of the math required to win the Vare. Her primary focus remains to find a way to win again after going 14 months without a victory. Her drive for her third LPGA title is so strong that Thitikul would trade winning the year-long award for a regular LPGA victory.

"Because Vare Trophy, it shows the consistency, but sometimes when you get there on the top and winning, it's more pressure [to win]," Thitikul explained.

Despite continuing to be a top-10 machine at the beginning of the season, Thitikul felt missing back-to-back cuts at the KPMG Women's PGA Championship and the U.S. Women's Open over the summer were important in having an earnest discussion with herself about her expectations. She said she needed to let go of her internal pressure following an accolade-heavy first season, in which she won twice, became World No. 1, and won Rookie of the Year honors.

"I would say I release it out," Thitikul said. "It's came up pretty good. Starting to hit better, starting play better.

Thitikul has had some of her best chances at victory this season over the last month. In October, only six people beat her over three events. She lost to Celine Boutier in a marathon nine-hole playoff at the Maybank Championship, one of two runners-up of the month.

"So hard to be out here," Thitikul said of the competition. "I'm trying to get it. I'm really trying to get the win."