Atthaya Thitikul’s incredible final-round comeback in the JTBC Classic in March 2022 landed the Thai golfer her first win on the LPGA tour. At the age of just 19, there are surely many more to come; not least because the nature of her performance – including going head-to-head in a tense play-off against the vastly experienced Nanna Koerstz Madsen – has set her up as one of the most talented emerging players on the circuit.
In pulling a rookie surprise on an experienced opponent – one that left Madsen herself saying that she “just didn’t see her coming until it was too late” – Thitikul demonstrates a rock-solid performance mindset. As she told RSNG, this approach requires not thinking about golf at all for 50% of the round!
RSNG Do you feel different now, as a player, having now landed your debut LPGA title?
ATTHAYA THITIKUL, LPGA GOLFER “Maybe in very quiet moments when I am by myself, yes, but when I step out onto the course, it is not as if I change the way I swing the club, or approach a putt, just because I am a tournament winner.
“In that split second moment of how I take a shot, I am playing back through a recording that I have done hundreds of thousands of times, and that will never change, no matter what success I have on the course.”
The real secret is to play the shots in the way you would every time – as they say, ‘play the course not the occasion’
RSNG That makes sense, but you must have felt pressure and expect to feel pressure going forward. How, as a person, do you handle that?
ATTHAYA THITIKUL “Well I never worry too much about my round on the front nine. Only really at halfway will I start assessing where I am and how things are going. I think if you assess too early you run the risk of putting too much pressure on yourself, and you change your natural strategy.
“On the back nine of a round I find more thoughts going through my head, but as I said, the real secret is to play the shots in the way you would every time. As they say, ‘play the course not the occasion’. The preparation for each shot must be the same, the assessment of each shot must be the same, and if you can do that then you are constructing a round that gives you the best chance of putting a good score together.
“Routine is the most important thing for me, always.”
RSNG And when a bad spell in a round comes along?
ATTHAYA THITIKUL “Every shot, every hole, every round you lose is another chance to learn. It is all a building experience.”
RSNG Yet for someone so young, there is only so much experience you can tap into, right?
ATTHAYA THITIKUL “Well, experience can be accumulated very quickly, and sometimes learning quickly is the most effective way to do well. I will always listen to others, take advice, and embrace the support of the people around me.
“However, sometimes it can be just as useful to come into a situation cold, and to play a course almost instinctively. For instance, when I won at the Avira Golf Club [JTBC Classic] I had only played two nine-hole practice rounds on the course in the days leading up to the start. So I was very inexperienced, and it’s a tough course as well – one of those where if you put it into the rough, it’s always going to be difficult to get it onto the green.
“I knew I was going to have to put together a round where I was forgiving of my mistakes; as soon as you get on your own back, you have lost.
“What also helped me was the fact I started the final day six shots off the lead. That really took the pressure off and I was more inclined to play my natural game without necessarily looking for a way to win the tournament.”
RSNG Where are you toughest on yourself, on a course?
ATTHAYA THITIKUL “Definitely when I am on the fairway. I always say you cannot take the green too personally. It is unpredictable. It’s just a case of being patient.
I like to feed off all that energy of people or the cameras, and I believe it makes me a better player
RSNG What other techniques do you employ in order to perform at your best?
ATTHAYA THITIKUL “I always ensure I let myself be excited about a shot. I say my approach play on the fairway is when I need to get the big shots covered, and then when I get on the green I can dream about how a shot might go in, and I let myself get excited about hitting a birdie or whatever. I have always liked the thrill of golf, and I would find it very difficult to turn off that emotion just because I am in a tournament.
“I am the type of player who feeds off the adventure of a shot, and that energy is what takes me on to the next shot, and then the next, so it’s important for me not to block out the reality of what I am doing.
“I know some players like to go into their own space when they are playing; but for me I like to feed off all that energy of people or the cameras, and I believe it makes me a better player.”
RSNG How much do you adapt your style of play depending on the opponent – for instance, when you went into the play-off with Nanna?
ATTHAYA THITIKUL “Not at all. I can only play my own game.
“The secret to winning for me is of course, mainly technical, mental and physical play.
“I can’t change the way I play when I get to a golf course, nor when I see when I am paired with a certain partner.
“The things that influence me most on the day will always be the knowledge I can quickly gain on the course, and the support of my caddie, coach and family members. Nothing else.”
RSNG In what areas do you want to improve your game?
ATTHAYA THITIKUL “I will say improving every part of the game is important, but recently I have been working at good chipping and putting, two things I believe I need to get much better at.
“I'm not good at playing the short game, and when you step up to the LPGA that is really one of the main things that gets shown up.
“I also want to be more aggressive on the pin, because if you are not, and you put the ball in a safe space every time, you simply won’t be able to get close to the low scores.”
WHAT NEXT? Find out how Lydia Ko used a break away from the game to rediscover her winning ways in this RSNG interview.
Photos: Shutterstock/ REX