By Richard Talbot
Two years ago the Ladies European tour visited Phoenix Gold Golf and Country Club for the hosting of the 2017 European Thailand Championship. Few people would have predicted that the winner of the title would be the Thai 14-year-old Atthaya “Jean” Thitikul.
As the championship returns to the Pattaya venue for the third time it is interesting to look at how the young Ratchaburi based player has fared since coming into the spotlight. Atthaya is now four months beyond her 16th birthday, yet still remains an amateur. Her career is guided under the watchful eye of Kanes Nitiwanakul, her manager at the Thailand Golf Association.
This does not mean that this has in any way hindered her development as she now lies in fifth place on the world amateur rankings. The last two years has seen Jean circumnavigating the globe as she has aimed for both individual glory, as well as pursuing team victories for Thailand.
She is fiercely patriotic and last year she was happy for the Thailand Golf Association to make her unavailable to defend her European crown, as it clashed with her preparations for the South East Asian games. This selfless attitude has made her popular both among her playing colleagues as well as the golfing fans in Thailand.
In February 2018 she won the inaugural Pacific Amateur Open title at the Sentosa golf course in Singapore. This earned her a place at the LPGA HSBC world championship, which was played the following week. Despite being only 15-years of age Jean finished in 8th place with Michelle Wie taking the title.
In July 2018, Atthaya took her place at the Women’s British Open which was held at the Royal Lytham and St Annes Golf Club in Lancashire. Being the only amateur to make the cut, she was presented with the “Smyth Salver” which made her the second youngest ever winner of the trophy, after Lydia Ko who was 20 days younger.
Six weeks later saw her winning the World Junior Golf championships in Canada and from here she headed to the Youth Olympic Games in Argentina. She managed to finish in 8th place in the individual event, but she followed this by taking a gold medal with her partner Vanchai Luangnitkul in the mixed pairs event.
As well as staring on the amateur scene, Atthaya has also appeared in many professional tournaments which has included playing in four majors and twice she has appeared at the LPGA Honda event at Siam Old Course in Thailand. She has just returned from the 2019 Kia Korean Open and there appears to be no tournament where this ambitious, but happy, young player is not willing to test herself in.
This week she returns to Phoenix Gold where she will be hoping to win for the second time in three years and take the title away from her good friend Kanyalak Preedasuttijit who won the championship in fine style in 2018. She will also be up against a host of top LET players, but whatever the result, she will see it as just another step on the ladder to her eventual dream.
It will be of no surprise that if Atthaya turns professional in 2020. She will of course have to conquer Q-School and there is still much golf to be played in 2019. After Phoenix Gold she will be keen to maintain her ranking in the top 5 of the world’s leading amateurs. Whatever the outcome of the next few weeks there is no doubt that since Atthaya made such a sudden impact on the women’s golf scene two years ago, she has continued to progress into one of the most promising female players in world golf today.