Thailand's Thitikul defends LPGA title after life lessons

WASHINGTON: Thailand's Atthaya Thitikul has not won as much this year as she did last season, but the 20-year-old LPGA star has learned how to better mix golf and life.

Thitikul defends her title at the 54-hole Northwest Arkansas Championship starting Friday at Rogers, Arkansas, still chasing her first triumph since last year at Pinnacle Country Club.

She spent two weeks at world number one last season after wins at the JTBC Classic and in Rogers, also taking the LPGA Rookie of the Year Award.

This season, Thitikul has nine top-10 finishes in 15 LPGA starts, her best coming in her homeland when she finished third back in February.

"A lot of good things happened last year, and also this year even though we had a tough time," Thitikul said. "You had a bunch of top 10s. You can survive on the tour. Was just like really amazing for me.

"The level of golf, you always have to improve it. I'm getting there and also trying to keep working to be a better person on and off the course."

Thitikul took a confidence boost from her NW Arkansas title but has learned from tough weeks as well as good ones.

"It's a rollercoaster in my career. I do have a rollercoaster this year, too, which is fun," she said. "I've learned a lot of things this year about life and golf."

After teen success on the Ladies European Tour – including the 2021 Player of the Year, Order of Merit and Rookie of the Year awards – and reaching number one, Thitikul began to feel the pressure of her achievements.

"I did like put a lot of pressure on myself, a lot of expectations. One came from myself, and two maybe from fans and players around me," she said.

Thitikul says she has learned not to make golf her entire focus.

"When I hit it bad or had a bad day, it's just golf. It's bad golf. Not a bad life," she said.

"You still have like so many people around you that love the way you are. They don't love the result.

"It's just not golf 24 hours. Golf is just golf. You're just like breakfast, play out there, and when you come home you just be at the home.

"You just have to release everything and then just do anything like without thinking about golf. I think it's a really must for golfer to do that. If you golf 24 hours, I think your brain should be like burned out."

Thitikul fired a 10-under-par 61 in the second round at Pinnacle and finished deadlocked with Danielle Kang before beating the American with a birdie on the second playoff hole.

"It was one of my best stops in the career," she said. "I had 10-under, which is really incredible and surreal. Feel pretty great about last year. It was just amazing."--AFP

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