Emerging Thai star Atthaya Thitikul, 15, secured a dramatic wire-to-wire victory at the Women’s Amateur Asia-Pacific by winning a four-way play-off at Sentosa Golf Club and securing places in two of this year’s major championships.
Continuing to sing, laugh and joke with experienced caddie Roongroj ‘Yod’ Boonsri, Thitikul carded a closing 71 to join Japan’s Yuna Nishimura (69), the Philippines’ Yuka Saso (68) and New Zealand’s Wenyung Keh (67) with an eight-under total of 276 over the 6,456-yard New Tanjong course.
After narrowly missing birdie-putt chances to win on the first two extra holes on 18, Thitikul tapped in for par on the long par-four 12th before 17-year-old Nishimura missed a long par putt to concede victory. Keh, 20, and Saso, 16, exited after the first and second extra holes respectively.
Thitikul, who only turned 15 on Tuesday, started the event at 53rd in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, with recent highlights including becoming the Ladies European Tour’s youngest-ever winner last July and gold medals in the SEA Games individual and team events in Malaysia a month later.
Now, she has earned invitations to the ANA Inspiration (Mar. 29 to Apr. 1) at Mission Hills Country Club in California, USA, and the Ricoh Women’s British Open (Aug. 2to 5) at Royal Lytham & St Annes Golf Club in Lancashire, England, as well as next week’s 11th HSBC Women’s World Championship, also at Sentosa Golf Club.
Born in Ratchaburi province west of Bangkok, Thitikul made her major championship debut at the Ricoh Women’s British Open last August and the following month played in her second at The Evian Championship in France, where she made the cut.
Now, the Thai teen has earned a return to the Women’s British Open after an eventful week in which she led after an opening 65, co-led after a second-round 71 and regained the outright lead after a third-round 69 that she completed on Saturday morning when she birdied two of her last four holes.
“I’m so excited because this is the first year of this championship. It’s so great that my name is the first one on the trophy,” said Thitikul, who played in her first LPGA event at the Honda LPGA Thailand last February, when she just turned 14.
“Now, I’m so excited to play in two more majors. I’m really looking forward to returning to the Women’s British Open and I would like to make the cut this time, but my main objective is always to play happy and gain more experience.”
Thitikul stretched her lead with birdies in three of the first four holes and remained 11-under after a bogey-birdie finish to the front nine. After Keh bogeyed 13, the Thai held a four-stroke lead before a double-bogey on the long par-four 12 – a hole she bogeyed in her two rounds – and then bogeyed 17 to drop back into a play-off.
Thitikul was awarded the winner’s plate by Kei Muratsu, Chairman of the Asia-Pacific Golf Confederation, and received the Champion’s Medal from Thailand’s Rae-Vadee T. Suwan, whom it was named after.
Like Thitikul, Keh smiled her way through the event and the University of Washington junior didn’t show any disappointment after losing in the play-off. Dressed in all black like her country’s rugby heroes, New Zealand’s top-ranked amateur secured her spot in the play-off drama with closing rounds of 68 and 67.
In contrast, 16-year-old Natasha Oon – who has played the last two editions of the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia – left a little downhearted despite finishing as the top Malaysian each day, eventually tying for 29th at nine-over after rounds of 69, 72, 76 and 76.
Six Japanese and five Koreans finished in the top 20, while five Filipinas finished in the top 30. The original field started with 83 players representing 18 nations, with 48 aged 18 or under, and 53 made the halfway cut.
The Women’s Amateur Asia-Pacific championship has been developed by the Asia Pacific Golf Confederation (APGC) and The R&A to nurture talent and provide a pathway for the region’s elite female amateurs to the international stage.