Teenager Atthaya Thitikul became the youngest ever winner on the Ladies European Tour by claiming victory in the Ladies European Thailand Championship aged 14 years, 4 months and 19 days.
With rounds of 70, 71, 70 and 72, the Thai school girl won by two strokes with a total of 283, five-under-par and she never stopped smiling.
Due to her amateur status, the top prize of 45,000 euros, however, went to second placed Ana Menendez of Mexico, who had led after each of the first three rounds and earned her career best finish. Australian Whitney Hillier, who is half-Thai, finished in third spot on two-under-par.
Thitikul had previously demonstrated her enormous potential when she finished tied for 37th in the recent Honda LPGA Thailand event, which she played in just a few days after her 14th birthday, on February 20. She then received an invitation to play in the inaugural LET event at Phoenix Golf and Country Club in Pattaya from the tournament sponsor, the Sports Authority of Thailand. Her aim was to make the cut, gain experience and have fun.
However, her remarkable talent was soon on display again when she shot an opening round of 70 to lie two strokes off the lead and after subsequent rounds of 71, 70, she was the only player in the field of 126 under par for each of the first three rounds.
The final day began very much as usual for the girl nicknamed ‘Jeen.’ Decked out in white and blue, even the ribbons in her hair matched her outfit.
Although there was a bogey on the first hole, she had gained a one stroke lead after four holes and from that point looked unshakeable.
She gained a two-stroke advantage with a birdie on the seventh. On a steamy day in Pattaya, the question then became if anyone else could catch her.
Amy Boulden tried with a run of three straight birdies from the 11th, but a bogey on 16 ended her charge and she ended in a tie for fourth place on one-under-par.
Mendendez closed the gap to a stroke with a birdie on 11, but Thitikul responded with a birdie on hole 15, which gave her a two-stroke lead with three to play and both players closed with a run of three pars.
Afterwards, Thitikul, who only reached a scratch handicap last year, said: “I’m so happy and proud of myself. I did not look nervous, but of course I felt nerves on the first tee and on the first hole. I did not think about the score. I committed to every shot I hit and stayed relaxed. My caddie helped me a lot, not to think too much, to focus on my game plan and to plan the tee shots and second shots.
“My family do not play golf. When I was younger, aged six, my father told me to play sport and he offered tennis or golf and I watched golf on TV and I liked it.”
Second placed Menendez, who closed with a 75, commented: “Right now, I’m disappointed, because I know I could have done better and my start was a little poor. There are lots of positives to take and I will go home happy. I’m looking forward to the rest of the year and I’ve made huge strides from this year to last year, so I’m proud of myself and my team. I was feeling nervous again and it wasn’t quite comfortable today, with my swing and everything. I was in between clubs a lot so it was tough to make decisions and overall it was a tough day for me.”
Hillier said: “I only made two birdies today and I was so patient out there. I made nothing on the front nine and then finally made a couple in the end. It was a solid game and I was very happy with that. I tried to get myself back up there and I did. I’ve been working really hard the last couple of months as well, but it does help to have local support, my mum and all of her friends cheering me on.”
Thitikul already has vast experience that most other youngsters would cherish. Earlier in June, she won the Taiwan Amateur Open after previously being second in the Queen Sirikit Cup in China. Her next big tournament is the South East Asian Games in Malaysia.
The previous record for the youngest player to win on the LET was held by Lydia Ko, who won the 2013 New Zealand Open as an amateur aged 15 years, nine months and 17 days.
Ko was the youngest player to win two Majors, became the women’s world number one and claimed the silver medal in the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
Whether Thitikul follows that path or not, one thing is for certain: the world of women’s golf has seen a remarkable player who has enormous potential.
photos Janos Schmidt
photos Janos Schmidt