For months, two competitors dominated the race for Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year: current Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings No. 1 Atthaya Thitikul and Hye-Jin Choi. After a long battle between the two, Thitikul was finally declared the winner after Choi withdrew from this week’s Pelican Women’s Championship.
Thitikul led Choi by a 250-point margin, buoyed by her wins at the JTBC Classic presented by Barbasol and the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship presented by P&G. She has racked up 13 additional top 10 results, making 24 cuts in 25 events. Thitikul is the second consecutive player from Thailand to clinch the honors, following Patty Tavatankit.
For most of the season, Choi was able keep up with Thitikul’s breakneck pace, an extraordinary feat considering she has yet to find her maiden win. The Korean has not missed a cut in the 26 events she has played – though she did withdraw from The Ascendant LPGA benefiting Volunteers of America. In every event, Choi finished in the top 40 with 10 top 10s and four top 3 results, including a season-best runner up finish at the CP Women’s Open.
However, Choi could not overtake Thitikul without a win. Choi needed the Pelican Women’s Championship title to have a shot at the award. With her withdrawal, Choi has been mathematically eliminated from contention and Thitikul will end a stellar rookie season with the award in hand.
After her first win in March, the 19-year-old from Thailand turned in a mixed bag of results before finding her stride in the twilight of her rookie season. She has finished in the top 10 in her last six events, including her second win in September. She then ascended to world No. 1 on Oct. 31, becoming the second Thai player to ever do so alongside Ariya Jutanugarn.
But Thitikul has never given much thought to her ranking, or winning rookie of the year for that matter. No accolade is as important to her as having fun while playing and being able to take care of her family.
“I’m not really thinking about all the awards that much, all I want to do from now to the end of the season is try to adjust as much as possible,” Thitikul said ahead of the BMW Ladies Championship. “I think when I go out and just have fun, all the results have come in pretty good. I’m the kind of person that goes out and smiles as much as possible. We worked really hard this year already and it’s coming pretty close to the end of the season, so what I have to do is just relax and enjoy."
“I don’t really care to be No. 1 in the world at all,” she added a few days later. “I play golf because I want to take care of my family. I want to feed my family. Whatever I am is fine. Ranking is not that important for me.”
But that’s not to say Thitikul isn’t grateful for the recognition. While winning rookie of the year may not have been one of her explicit goals, she sees it as a representation of and reward for everything she’s accomplished this season.
“I think that (the award) is just an outcome or like a gift for your hard work at the end of the season,” Thitikul said after clinching. “Who plays better or more consistent gets the award. I have been focusing about my game more than the award.”
Thitikul has yet to celebrate clinching the rookie of the year award. She’s going to wait for the season to end because she wants to acknowledge the success of her first year on tour as a whole.
“I think we are going to celebrate in Thailand,” Thitikul said. “Not just because I got the rookie of the year but because we have put in really hard work this year and we have to celebrate for an amazing season.”