With stunning performance, Patty Tavatanakit has announced herself to the professional golf world.
After her impressive opening round at the 2021 ANA Inspiration, the LPGA’s managing editor, Steve Eubanks wrote of Patty Tavatanakit, that “it surprises no one who knows her. Unfortunately, that is still a relatively small number of people.” Well, that will most certainly change now, as she put on a tremendous display of tournament golf. To those who know Patty or have followed her in the past, they will have become familiar with her power game and strong swing. What she has done this week, is announce herself to the professional golfing world, putting her entire game on display and handling it like a seasoned pro.
In winning the 50th Edition of the ANA Inspiration, Tavatanakit joins an impressive list of players. She is the first player to go “wire to wire” as the leader in this tournament since Karrie Webb last did it in 2000. Even more impressively, is that she is the first LPGA rookie since Juli Inkster in 1984, to win this Championship. Those are two hall of fame players; not bad company to be associated with.
The way in which Tavatanakit handled the course this week has been impressive. She has combined awesome power and precision irons with the short game touch of Tiger Woods. She displayed a skill set that most in the game do not possess. It’s also not too dissimilar to the performance of Tiger Woods at the 1997 Masters that he won in record fashion. It is not a comparison lost on Tavatanakit as Woods was her favourite player as a child and one of her golfing inspirations. “I like his style of play. You know, even though obviously it's incomparable, my level and his level. But he is a great competitor, and no matter how much of a lead he has, he's still going to keep pedaling like it's the first day, and I really like that about him.”
Tavatanakit’s golf this week was simply sublime. Her driving was exceptional, a display of power and control that has not been seen in the women’s game yet. There are players now on tour that can generate terrific clubhead speed and drive a golf ball over 300 yards. But until today, none of them have been able to control their golf ball like Tavatanakit. Stepping up to many of the tee boxes, she was able to pull her driver or 3-wood and take a line off the tee that others simply couldn’t. And on the rare moments when she missed, she was still strong enough to get her ball out of the rough without too much effort.
In round one, Tavatanakit reached all of the par-5 holes in two shots. These were par-5’s ranging in yardage from the 534-yard, 9th hole to the 474-yard, 18th hole with an island green. These were not all shots with a driver and 3-wood where the ball would trickle on to the green; many of them were drivers with irons. On the par 5, 2nd hole, she played driver and 4-iron; on the par 5, 11th, it was a driver and a 5-iron. On the week, Tavatanakit averaged 323-yards in driving distance. One could say that it was achieved under ideal playing conditions of hot, dry air with the course in peak condition, but that would be doing a disservice to Patty Tavatanakit.
It is one thing to have just the power off the tee box, but the control that Tavatanakit displayed was awesome. Not only did her drives have fantastic power behind them; they were accurate as she found the fairway 66% of the time, going 37 for 56 “Fairways in Regulation”. Her approach game was even more impressive, reaching 61 “Greens in Regulation” out a total of 72 greens – an incredible 85% rate. And, if we looked at her putting, she was absolutely rock solid this week averaging 29.75 putt per round all without a single 3-putt in four rounds of major tournament golf.
Tavatanakit’s putting was so smooth, making her 8-10 foot putts look routine, as if they were only short 2-foot putts. She poured her putts in at key times to save par or to make birdie and extend her lead. As impressive as all of these physical skills were, even more impressive was her mental approach this week. She was so strong mentally, focused only on what was in front of her at that moment. She failed to be distracted from any outside influences. It was reminiscent of some of golf’s greatest players like Tiger Woods and Ben Hogan – that mental focus that allowed them to be cool and calm under the heat of competition.
When Lydia Ko mounted one of the greatest charges on championship Sunday, shooting two tournament records ( a 29 – for 9-hole low score, and a 62 for low 18 hole score in the final round), Tavatanakit was oblivious to it all. She simply remained focused on her game. “That's the mentality since the first day, just keep pedaling. I never know what's going to happen out here. I just got to keep going and going.” She told reporters afterwards, that she refused to look at the leaderboard so that she would not get distracted. “I feel like if I knew it was going on (Lydia’ charge), I don't know if I could pull off that (chip on 17 to save her par and preserve her lead) . Since I didn't know, I just played like how I would do it freely, and I feel like that just helped.”
It may have only been a single victory, but it was the manner in which Patty Tavatanakit won that will reverberate through the women’s game. She has worked extremely hard over the past few years to get to this point in her career, leaving university early to play professionally on the Symetra Tour, then playing the LPGA as a rookie for 2020-21. She has spent countless hours practicing at her home base in Florida with her coach Grant Waite on small changes to her swing mechanics..
“Little bit of swing changes, some mechanics stuff . . . Let's say I was working on my hand path a lot. I was coming across and then shallow down, which is not good. A lot of deviation there. Grant just kind of straightened out my path, just up and down a little better, which my ball doesn't curve that much. It's always nice to hit just a straight kind of baby draw, baby fade shots. Other than that, starting line and just -- you know, golf is a wholesome sport. It's not just mental, it's part mechanics, too but you have to even it out pretty good, which I think I did a good job of that.”
There was an early press conference in Tiger Wood's career, when he stepped up to the microphone and introduced himself, saying “hello world”. Perhaps it is fitting that this week was Patty Tavatanakit’s “hello world” moment where she introduced herself to the broader golf world. Only time will tell if she can build on her success this week, replicating that form into more LPGA victories and more major championships. Regardless, she will become a new role model to many other young kids out there — if she already hasn't after yesterday's victory.