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The Rise of Thai Golf

Is this the Emergence of a New Power in Women’s Golf?

 

With its beautiful beaches, ample sunshine, and an exchange rate that makes it very affordable for visitors, Thailand has always been a popular tourist destination since the 1970s. Over the years though, tourists have flocked to places like Bangkok and Pattaya not for the beaches, but for Golf and the beautiful courses in and around these cities.

As the sport took hold, more and more Thai players started taking up the game, eventually evolving from a purely recreational pursuit to one in which elite players started to emerge. Thongchai Jaidee emerged among the men, playing on the Asian and European tours. Virada Nirapathpongporn, NCAA Division 1 Individual champion (2002), US Women’s Amateur champion (2003), and former member of the Duke University Blue Devils, became an early pioneer of Thai golf on the LPGA.

From those humble beginnings, the development of Thai players has only increased and nowhere has that development been felt greater than in women’s golf. The LPGA has seen players Pornanong Phatlum over the past decade, eventually joined by the Jutanugarn sisters – Moriya and Ariya.

Patty Tavatanakit posing for a photo with her putter and golf ball
Patty Tavatanakit - 2021 Chevron Champion (at Mission Hills, Rancho Mirage)

Now there is a younger group of players coming from Thailand. Players such as 2021 Chevron Champion (ANA Inspiration) and 2021 Rookie of the Year, Patty Tavatanakit, Pajaree Anannarukarn (2021 ISPS Handa Champion), and 19 year old Atthaya Thitikul, the 2021 Costa Del Sol Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year on the Ladies European Tour (LET).

These young women are part of the newer generation of players that bring ample power to their game along with an iron or approach game that is in the top half of the field. This season, while still in its early stages, sees Patty Tavatanakit leading the Thai contingent with an average distance of 269.7 yards off the tee, Atthaya at 268.8 yards, and Pajaree with 255 yards. While each player has a stronger component to their game along with areas that they can improve on, there are no glaring weaknesses – each of them are elite competitors.

Atthaya Thitikul and Pajaree Anannarukarn share a hug on the golf course
Best friends on tour -- Atthaya Thitikul (left) with Pajaree Anannarukarn (right)

Their ability to hit greens in regulation means that they have ample opportunities to convert them into birdies. Pajaree was 5th overall in 2021 for total Birdies (303 in 25 events). Patty is currently 2nd overall in Birdies for 2022, and Atthaya recorded 286 Birdies in 18 events last season on the LET. The days of the Asian player being short off the tee with great short games has been shattered.

It started with Ariya Jutanugarn, the two-time LPGA Player of the Year (2016 & 2018), who was prodigious off the tee with so much power to spare that she put away her driver, relying on a driving iron or a fairway wood as her club of choice on Par 4’s and 5’s. She was also the first Thai player to win a major championship, winning both the AIG Women’s Open (2016) and the US Women’s Open (2018), before Patty Tavatanakit joined the club, winning last season’s first major – the Chevron Championship (former ANA Inspiration).

Ariya Jutanugarn holds the AIG Women's Open trophy at the presentation
Ariya Jutanugarn — the 2016 AIG Women's Open Champion at Woburn Golf & Country Club

One of the major catalysts for the growth of women’s golf in Thailand has been the Honda LPGA Thailand event, hosted in Thailand since 2006. This year’s event is the 15th edition of the tournament, providing homegrown Thai players with professional playing experience on the biggest tour in women’s golf.

This year’s event has 11 - Thai players competing at the Siam Country Club in Pattaya, including up and coming players such as Jaravee Boonchant, Duke Blue Devils graduate (2021), and amateur player Rina Tatematsu, a sophomore with the Oklahoma State Cowgirls team.

If we consider the Rolex Women’s World Rankings there are currently 5 – Thai players in the top 100, with another, Jasmine Suwannapura at 101. Within the Top-20 (as of the 2022 Honda Event), there are 2-Two Thai players – Patty Tavatanakit (13th) and Atthaya Thitikul (20th). Ariya Jutanugarn also reached the World No.1 spot in 2018, on the heels of her US Women’s Open victory.

Thai players are well placed to compete with traditional golf countries like South Korea and the United States. Like the men’s game, women’s golf is seeing more and more players that bring power to their game, particularly off the tee, giving them the advantage of playing with more lofted clubs as they attack the greens or reaching Par 5’s in two shots. With its own domestic professional league, they have the opportunity to experience professional golf as they continue growing and developing as players. As women’s golf continues evolving in a similar manner as the men’s game of the past couple of decades, Thai players should be in a position to challenge for even more wins and titles.

 

Get to know Patty Tavatanakit, major winner -- 2021 Chevron Championship




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