April 24, 2019: Atthaya Thitikul changed her swing mid-way through a terrific season and feels that will help ease any pressures she might face this week, as the defending champion at the second edition of the Women’s Amateur Asia-Pacific championship (WAAP).
Thailand’s Thitikul won the inaugural championship at Sentosa Golf Club last year after a four-way play-off, which also included Philippines’ Yuka Saso. The double Asian Games gold medalist is at The Royal Golf Club as the form player and will try to finish one place better compared to last year.
The first round of the championship, which has ‘elite’ status in the women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking (WAGR), begins on Thursday, April 25. The event was developed by The R&A and Asia-Pacific Golf Confederation (APGC) to unearth emerging talent and provide a pathway for Asia’s elite women amateurs to emerge on the international stage.
Thitikul earned exemptions at the HSBC Women’s World Championship and two of the five majors – the 2018 Women’s British Open and the ANA Inspirational. She was the low amateur in both the majors and finished a creditable tied eighth at the HSBC.
“I just give credit to the Women’s Amateur Asia-Pacific because that was my first play-off win in my life,” said Thitikul, who is ranked number nine on the World Amateur Golf Ranking (WAGR).
“I was so excited to win this tournament because it also was the first year. After I won, I got a lot of opportunities to play, including majors on the LPGA Tour. It was like all my dreams were coming true.
“I got a lot of experience playing with the LPGA players. Last year, my game was really, really good and mentally I was really good as well.”
Thitikul, 17, created history in July 2017 when she became the youngest winner on the Ladies European Tour at the age of 14 at the Thailand Championship. She missed the cut in the Augusta National Women’s Amateur by one shot despite making a great run on the back nine with three birdies.
“There is pressure of defending my title but my plan this week is just go on the golf course and have fun and not expect too much of myself because I am just changing my swing and it’s still got some work left,” added the ever-smiling Thitikul.
“My goal for any tournament is to keep smiling and have fun. I do get angry but I don’t get mad. I just sing a song and move along.”
Saso, who will be one of the favourites this week given her recent form that included finishing tied third in the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur followed by a second place at the Manila Ladies Masters (a professional event), said she just wanted to go out and enjoy herself.
“I played in Augusta, and I didn’t really expect to finish in the top-five. I don’t think my game is the best right now, but I’m happy with how I’m playing. I just want to keep working hard and I just want to keep getting better,” said Saso.
The 17-year-old Saso, who has committed to the University of Georgia later this year, also revealed that she had donated the 10 million pesos (approx. USD 530,000) she received from the government for winning the double gold at the Jakarta Asian Games to the Philippines National Golf Association. The money will be used by the association to develop junior and amateur golf.
“I didn’t know that we would get an incentive for winning the Gold medal, so I wasn’t expecting any money at all,” said Saso.
“When I found out we were getting money, I asked our national association if we can accept that, and they said if you want to keep your amateur status, you can’t. So my team and I had a talk and we decided that we want to give back to the younger golfers and the players who need help to be able to play golf and build their game.”
“It’s not something that I feel sad about. I’m actually really happy that I was able to give back to people who supported us and everything. I wanted to keep my amateur status. I wanted to play in Augusta and I wanted to play this tournament. So, yeah, I’m happy I did that.”