It was just a matter of time, even if the timing turned out to be a surprise. The way the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings work, events from past years that are part of the formula roll off, even on weeks when the LPGA Tour isn’t playing. Because of that, with most players either enjoying some time at home or getting in some sightseeing in Asia before the TOTO Japan Classic, there was a change at the top of the Rankings. The new No.1 player in the world is 19-year-old rookie Atthaya Thitikul, a young woman everyone calls Jeeno, who is now the second-youngest player in history, man or women, to reach No.1 behind another teen phenom, Lydia Ko.
For those who have followed Thitikul’s career, this accomplishment seemed inevitable. In 2017, she won the Ladies European Thailand Championship, becoming the youngest player in history to win a professional event. At that time, she was 14 years, 4 months and 19 days of age.
A couple of months later, she made the cut at the Amundi Evian Championship, making her the youngest player ever to play the weekend in that major.
Proving that her success wasn’t a fluke, Jeeno won the Asia Pacific Women’s Amateur a week before turning 15. That earned her a spot in the LPGA Tour’s HSBC Women’s Championship in Singapore where she finished in a tie for eighth, the youngest player ever to finish in the top-10 in that event.
At 16, she won the Ladies European Thailand Championship again, this time running away from the field. Esther Heinseleit finished runner-up that week, five shots back. Later that summer, Thitikul was low amateur at the AIG Women’s Open and was No.1 in the World Amateur Golf Rankings by a healthy clip until she turned pro in January of 2020, at age 16.
The month she turned 17, Jeeno finished fourth in the Women’s New South Wales Open in Australia. Then COVID hit and she went home to Thailand where she won five times on the Thai LPGA, finishing the season atop the money list.
She stayed near home in Thailand until May of 2021 when, playing on a sponsor’s exemption, she finished second in the Honda LPGA Thailand, a shot behind Ariya Jutanugarn. That finish and an easing of travel restrictions prompted Jeeno to head to Europe for a season on the LET.
Thitikul won four times in 2021, capturing the LET money title, Rookie of the Year, and was voted Player of the Year by her peers. She vaulted up to 18th on the Rolex Rankings. But more importantly, she earned a reputation as one of the kindest and most accommodating players in the game. Lewine Mair, who covered golf for the Daily Telegraph and Global Golf Post, called her “extraordinary on the course and off.”
She also has a compelling personal story. “No one in my family plays golf,” Jeeno told Golf Digest. “As a child, I was sick a lot. It wasn’t anything serious, but I got colds constantly. A doctor told my dad, Montree, and my mom, Siriwan, that I needed to play a sport— either golf or tennis—so I’d be outside, and I could control my own schedule. We watched golf on TV, and I chose that over tennis. Tennis requires too much running.
“My dad owns a carwash, and my mom is a hairdresser. They worked around their schedules to take me. I liked golf immediately. It was challenging and fun, and there were other kids to play with. At 10, I knew I loved golf and competing. I also realized back then that if I got good enough, I could support my family.”
Now, she has two LPGA Tour wins and 12 other top-10 finishes. She is heavily favored to capture the Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year title and is in the running for Rolex LPGA Player of the Year. Jeeno is also now the No.1 player in the world.
Even s0, the character and kindness others recognized early remains her greatest asset.
“One thing that I have, like I really want to do, no matter where I am (whether it’s) No. 1 in the world, No. 2, 3, 4, 5, 100, 1000, I want to be same (person),” Thitikul said to media heading into the MEDIHEAL LPGA Championship. “I want to be the same as before, not changing myself. I want to have fun, not really taking (golf) too seriously. I don't want to think about myself like a superstar or act like I’m No. 1 in the world.
“I don't really think about the ranking that much. I mean, like I said, it's the outcome that we can’t control.
“I play golf because I want to take care of my family,” she added during the BMW Ladies Championship. “I want to feed my family. Whatever I am is fine. Even my family, they have a good life already. Ranking is not that important to me.”