Atthaya returns to happy hunting ground

World number three Atthaya Thitikul is relishing the chance to finish the 2022 season strongly by winning her first Korea Ladies Professional Golf Association (KLPGA) Tour title at the inaugural Hana Financial Group Singapore Women’s Open next week.

The 19-year-old is the highest-ranked player in the 102-woman field at the Tanah Merah Country Club from December 9-11, and she faces strong competition from a host of KLPGA heavyweights headed by 2022 Money List winner Min-ji Park and the LPGA Tour’s rising star Yealimi Noh.

Atthaya is no stranger to competing in Singapore, and in fact, the country has been a favourite hunting ground since her amateur days, finishing runner-up at the Singapore Junior Championship in 2016 and winning the Women’s Amateur Asia-Pacific in 2018.

She also enjoyed two top-eight finishes in the HSBC Women’s Champions event hosted here in 2018 and last year.

“I always love coming back to Singapore. I mean, the weather and everything else is similar to Thailand. It’s like competing back home,” said Atthaya.

Backed by the Hana Financial Group, Atthaya been a revelation in her first season on the LPGA Tour, bagging two titles and 14 top-10 finishes.

Also fondly known by her nickname ‘Jean’, Atthaya secured her breakthrough victory at the JTBC Classic presented by Barbasol in March, propelling her to the world’s top five for the first time.

Her second win came at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship and saw her reach the top of the world rankings for the first time, holding the position for two weeks before being unseated by American Nelly Korda.

Atthaya also battled hard in the CME Globe points race, finishing second to New Zealand’s Lydia Ko there and also in the Vare Trophy, which is awarded to the player with the lowest scoring average of the year.

Still, it was a season to savour as the young Thai claimed the Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year award.

It was on the Ladies European Tour (LET) that Atthaya first rose to prominence, creating history in July 2017 by becoming the youngest golfer ever to win a professional golf tournament at age 14 years, 4 months and 19 days at the LET Thailand Championship as an amateur. She went on to win the LET Order Of Merit title in 2021.

Having proven herself on both the LPGA Tour and LET, Atthaya knows there’s a good chance for her to stamp her mark on the KLPGA Tour in Singapore.

“I know it was a really great year for me. A lot of good things happened this year. I mean, if I can do it then it would be great but if not, I’m sure it’s still going to be a great event for me,” she said.

“We usually see a lot of great Korean players on the LPGA Tour, so it’s without a doubt that the KLPGA Tour is a very strong and competitive circuit as well.

“The KLPGA Tour comprises many talented players there. If you want to finish on top, then you have to play really solid golf all week to stand a chance.”

Atthaya has also paid tribute to Hana Financial Group for its strong backing which led to her enjoying success in the early stage of her professional career.

“I’m so lucky and humbled to be a part of the HFG family. Being a Thai, I have never imagined I would be getting support from a Korean conglomerate,” she said.

“But HFG placed their faith and see something in me. I can’t thank HFG enough for their help and support.”

Meanwhile, Princess Mary Superal of the Philippines will also head to Tanah Merah Country Club seeking to replicate the giant-killing feat that crowned her the Simone Asia-Pacific Cup winner in Jakarta in August.

The 25-year-old upstaged some of the world’s biggest names including Ko, So-yeon Ryu, Hyo-joo Kim in the Ladies Asian Tour (LAT) event to claim her first-ever professional title since turning professional in 2016.

“I’m just happy to participate in this upcoming tournament, and I’m also excited to play with all of these fantastic players who are participating in it as well,” said Superal.

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