Every win is hard. And first wins as a rookie can be like climbing Everest. But making the ANA Inspiration your first win as a rookie is, well, historic. No rookie in the 50-year history of the event had ever made the ANA Inspiration her first win. Juli Inkster won as a rookie way back in 1984 but she came into Mission Hills having already won on the LPGA Tour.
Of all the impressive accomplishments Patty Tavatanakit achieved with her two-shot victory in the season’s first major – coming within a shot of Dottie Pepper’s all-time scoring record, sleeping on a lead every night, leading the field in driving distance by an eye-popping margin, and holding off one of the most impressive final-round charges in major championship history, a 62 by Lydia Ko – Patty making this championship her maiden win as a rookie might be the best. Annika didn’t do it. Lorena couldn’t pull it off. Inbee didn’t get it done. Pepper, Inkster, Judy Rankin, Patty Sheehan, Betsy King, they all won in the desert. But only Patty Tavatanakit made it her first victory as a rookie.
“Amazing,” the winner said, still dripping from her plunge into Poppie’s Pond after a closing 68. “It makes me feel accomplished. You know, coming into this year I didn't really set any goals because I knew how tough (golf in general) was last year. I just wanted to come out and learn to be a better player.
“My dad kind of told me that if anything, you should set a goal of being inside the top 100 on the Rolex Rankings and top 60 on the CME (points list). But it’s been kind of my goal at the back of my mind, I really wanted to win. I told Grant (Waite) my coach about it. But I didn't expect to win here.”
That sort of honesty makes you love Patty T. even more. But then she spoke about the texts she sent back and forth with on Easter Sunday with her coaches, Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott of Vision 54.
Grabbing her phone, she read the messages.
“’Reality check,’” she said, reading what Nilsson and Marriott had sent her. “’You don't know if you're going to win or not today. You can play good and not win or you can play so-so and still win. You do want to make yourself proud by taking the best actions possible to manage yourself and your game plan. That was huge.’
“I took that really seriously. Just focus on what is 100% under your control, because the outcome is – you can't control it.”
Then she read her reply.
“I said, ‘I agree. No matter what happens today my core values are: one: my parents will be proud of me and still love me no matter what; two, I'm already so proud of myself to be able to play good the last three days and just be a better player already since last year; and, three, I'm still going to be the same Patty who appreciates the love and care from the people that matter in Patty's life; and four, at the end of the day there is always room for improvement and I won't stop trying to get better.’
“I feel like those words, I just keep making them sink into my system,” she said. “And I really think those core values helped me win today.”
The word superstar gets thrown around too often in sports. But as a thoughtful, caring and extraordinary human being who is also now a history-making major champion, Patty Tavatanakit can legitimately lay claim to being our game’s newest superstar.