Thai teenage golfer is youngest winner ever of pro tour event
At just 14 years old, Atthaya Thitikul of Thailand became the youngest winner ever of a ladies professional golf tournament last week, taking the Ladies European Thailand Championship in Pattaya, a European Tour event, defeating Ana Menendez of Mexico and adding a new rising Thai golfing star behind world number one Ariya Jutanugarn.
“I give this win to all Thais,” said Atthaya who added that she took inspiration from Ariya.”I was nervous at the first tee, but I didn’t think about the scores. I just focused on my shots and only on my caddie. I didn’t expect to win this tournament as I just came here to learn techniques from the pro players on the Ladies European Tour.”
Despite her unexpected and impressive victory, Atthaya took home no money for her performance because she is still an amateur. The $51,000 prize was awarded to second place finisher Menendez, who had led after each of the first three rounds. It was the best finish of her career. Australian Whitney Hillier, who is half-Thai, finished in third place at two-under-par.
Nicknamed “Jeen” and referred to by announcers as the Thai schoolgirl, Atthaya, dressed in blue and white and with ribbons in her hair, began the final round with a bogey but she was ahead by a stroke after the fourth hole and never relinquished the lead thereafter.
Menendez pulled within a stroke with a birdie on 11, but Atthaya fought back with a birdie on hole 15, giving her a two-stroke lead with three to play. Both players closed with three consecutive pars.
In February, Atthaya showed her considerable potential, finishing in a tie for 37th in the Honda LPGA Thailand event, which she played in just a few days after her 14th birthday. It was after that that she received an invitation to play in the inaugural Ladies European Tour event at Phoenix Golf and Country Club in Pattaya from the Sports Authority of Thailand. She said her aim was to make the cut, gain experience and have fun.
Unlike many successful professional Thai golfers, Atthaya does not come from a golfing family. “My family does 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,” she told The Golf Channel.
Lydia Ko held the previous record for the youngest player to win on the tour. She won the 2013 New Zealand Open as an amateur aged 15 years, nine months and 17 days. She went on to be world number one, only recently dethroned by Ariya Jutanugarn.
Atthaya’s next important tournament will be the South East Asian Games in Malaysia.