Atthaya Thitikul had plenty to take away from her first season on the LPGA Tour.
She won twice. Was named rookie of the year. And reached No. 1 in the world.
But her biggest takeaway? Golf isn’t everything.
It’s a valuable lesson that many players have taken decades to discover. But for Thitikul, who has seemed to achieve everything in the game a little quicker than most by winning her first professional event as a teenager, it’s no surprise that at the younge age of 20 she’s also learned the importance of achieving work-life balance.
The wise and rising star on the LPGA Tour returns to the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship where she earned her second career win last season with just one goal in mind - to have fun. While she could be frustrated with her start to the year with nine top 10s but not yet a win, she instead is focused on what she values most - finding joy on the golf course.
“What is perfect is me enjoying myself out on the course and my caddie having fun out there,” Thitikul said at the prospect of winning back-to-back. “I have a lot [of] time that I am not really enjoying it when I'm playing golf out there. Not really enjoying it. Kind of lose my smile. And then what I want to do every single event from now, then it's just enjoy, have fun.”
Thitikul had plenty to smile about in Arkansas last season as she went toe-to-toe with major champion Danielle Kang over the course of a two-hole playoff. It was the second time in her rookie season that she was forced to go to extra holes en route to hoisting a trophy, having also defeated Nanna Koerstz madsen at the Kia Classic for her maiden title.
“I think it's a good sign when you get on the playoff which mean you have a chance to get a win, like close by the trophy, which is tough as always to be a playoff,” Thitikul said about her playoff success. “But I would love it to be on the playoff like every week would be great.”
It’s an optimistic take that not every player shares about playoffs, but one that shows the type of approach the young Thai star is trying to apply to her life on and off the course.
Thitikul admits since her quick success last season to putting too much pressure on herself and raising her expectations for what she sees as a victory. She says she fell into the trap of letting a good round of golf define a good day off the course, and a bad day on the golf course dictating a bad day away from the game. Thitiul says she’s learned that her golf is just a part of who she is, but not everything.
“You still have so many people around you that love the way you are. They don't love the result or love the effect,” Thitikul said about not letting golf define her. “It's like, okay, golf is just golf. You just have to release everything out and then just do anything without thinking about golf.”
Thitiul’s new attitude is an indication of the hard work she’s been putting in on herself, while also still working on her game. It’s a necessary step for the world’s best as the level of competition continues to intensify each season, making it tougher and tougher for even child prodigies like Thitikul to maintain their winning form year after year. It might have been a rollercoaster season, but the second year member is taking it all in stride, enjoying the highs as much as the lows.“I do have a rollercoaster in my career this year, too, which is fun,”Thitiul said about her close calls this season. “Every player is trying to improve our games on and off the course, so which is mean I'm getting there and also trying to keep working, working to be a better person on and off the course.”