Atthaya Thitikul will tee it up as the No. 1 player in the world for the first time this week at the Toto Japan Classic. The 19-year-old joins Lydia Ko as the only teenagers to reach No. 1. Thitikul, who goes by the nickname “Jeeno,” is also the second rookie in history to become No. 1, along with South Korea’s Sung Hyun Park.
“I hadn’t thought that I would be No. 1 in the world that fast,” said Thitikul during a pre-tournament press conference in Japan. “And I didn’t think I would achieve this in my first year on the LPGA as well. Overall, I’m feeling great. Feeling grateful that this has happened this year.”
With three events left on the LPGA schedule in 2022, Thitikul will skip next week’s Pelican LPGA Championship and close out her season at the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, Florida. She joins Ariya Jutanugarn as the only Thai players to reach No. 1.
“Being No. 1 is pressure,” said Thitikul. “I don’t know how long I’m going to be No. 1 in the world, but at least it’s just a ranking. But, what you have to do is improve yourself a lot. I mean, no matter where I am – No. 1, 10, 20, or 100 – I’m just trying to improve myself and be myself every day that I play as a person and as a competitor as well.”
Here are five things to know about the humble prodigy who now sits on top of the world:
She made history at age 14
Leading amateur Atthaya Thitikul of Thailand poses with the silver medal during Day Four of the AIG Women’s British Open at Woburn Golf Club on August 04, 2019, in Woburn, England. (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)
In 2017, Thitikul become the youngest player to ever win on the Ladies European Tour when she claimed the Ladies European Thailand Championship at 14 years, 4 months and 19 days. She shot 70-71-70-72 to win by two.
Thitikul broke the record held by Lydia Ko, who won the 2013 New Zealand Open as an amateur at 15 years, 9 months and 17 days.
She first became the No. 1 amateur in the world on June 26, 2019. While that first stint only lasted a week, she spent another 11 weeks at the top beginning in October 2019. She lost the No. 1 ranking when she turned professional in January 2020 at age 16.
She dominated the Ladies European Tour last year
Atthaya Thitikul looks on on the 6th hole during day two of the 2021 Amundi Evian Championship at Evian Resort Golf Club in Evian-les-Bains, France. (Photo: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)
Thitikul won five times on the Thai LPGA during the pandemic when travel restrictions made it difficult to compete on a worldwide stage. After finishing runner-up to compatriot Ariya Jutanugarn at the Honda LPGA Thailand in May of last year, Thitikul began competing full time on the Ladies European Tour.
In 2021, she won four times on the LET, clinching the Order of Merit, Rookie of the Year and Player of the Year honors. Toward the end of last season, she ranked as high as 18th in the world. She finished third at LPGA Q-Series to earn her card for 2022.
She lights it up
Atthaya Thitikul of Thailand plays her tee shot on the first hole during day four of The Amundi Evian Championship at Evian Resort Golf Club on July 24, 2022, in Evian-les-Bains, France. (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)
Thitikul leads the tour in birdies with 375, 11 more than her nearest competitor, Nasa Hataoka. Thitikul also leads the tour in top-10 finishes with 14 and ranks third in scoring with a 69.43 average. She would need an average strokes per round of 64.862 in her remaining rounds to pass Lydia Ko’s current average of 69.05 and win the Vare Trophy.
Nancy Lopez is the only player in history to win Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year and the Vare Trophy in the same season.
Her LPGA playoff record is 2-0
Atthaya Thitikul of Thailand holds the winner’s trophy after winning the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship Presented by P&G at Pinnacle Country Club on September 25, 2022, in Rogers, Arkansas. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Thitikul’s first LPGA victory came last March in a playoff against Nanna Koerstz Madsen at the JTBC Classic. A final-round 8-under 64, the round of the week at Aviara Golf Club, got her into the playoff.
Thitikul took the title after Koerstz Madsen’s approach on the second playoff hole found the water. It was Thitikul’s fifth start in 2022.
Her second title also came in a playoff, this time against Danielle Kang at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship in September. Thitikul posted a dazzling 61 on Saturday and won with birdie on the second playoff hole.
She could rack up the season-ending awards
Atthaya Thitikul of Thailand holds the winner’s trophy after her -16 playoff win over Nana Koerstz Madsen of Denmark during the final round of the JTBC Classic presented by Barbasol at Aviara Golf Club on March 27, 2022, in Carlsbad, California. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)
Thitikul has held the lead in the Louise Suggs Rookie of the Year race since the beginning of March. She joins Hye-Jin Choi as the two rookies who mathematically have a chance to win. Thitikul could clinch the award with a victory this week in Japan, should Choi finish third or worse. She could also clinch it with a second place, should Choi finish 41st or worse.
In the Rolex Player of the Year race, Thitikul trails Ko by 21 points. Thitikul will need either a win or second-place finish as well as a third-place finish in her last two events to have a chance.
Currently fifth on the money list, Thitikful is one of nine players with a chance to earn the money title.
Only two players have won Rookie of the Year and Player of the Year in the same season: Nancy Lopez and Sung Hyun Park.