Carrying the weight of a child prodigy tag can be daunting, though clearly not for Atthaya Thitikul.
Five years after bursting onto the scene as golf’s youngest ever champion, the 19-year-old Thai took her meteoric rise to new heights to become the women’s world No. 1 on Monday.
Thitikul leapfrogged Ko Jin-young to the top of the rankings at the age of 19 years, eight months and 11 days.
In doing so Thitikul becomes the second youngest golfer to reach the summit of the women’s game.
Only world No. 3 Lydia Ko achieved the feat at a younger age, reaching the pinnacle aged 17 years, nine months and nine days in February 2015.
Already a two-time winner on the LPGA Tour, Thitikul is also only the second player – after Park Sung-hyun – to have reached the world No.1 slot in their rookie season.
“It means a lot for my team, my family, my supporters and myself. It is such an honor to have my name at the top amongst the biggest names of the game,” said Thitikul.
“It is very special to get to the top but it is much harder to retain it. I still have a lot to learn from all the legends and current players both on and off the course. I will continue to work hard for my family, my team, my fans and my country.”
Golf's greatest-ever prodigies
Thitikul made headlines around the world in 2017 when, just four months after her 14th birthday, she won the Ladies European Thailand Championship to become the youngest winner of a professional golf tournament.
Since turning professional in 2020, the teen has steadily climbed up the rankings.
She broke into the top-100 for the first time in July 2021, surging to 61st the following month with a stunning fifth-place finish at the Evian Championship.
After adding her fourth win on the Ladies European Tour (LET) at the Swiss Ladies Open, Thitikul secured her card for the LPGA Tour in December, setting the stage for her rookie season this year.
Ahead of the opening event in January, she was ranked 18th. By the time she clinched her first LPGA Tour win at the JTBC Classic in California in March, Thitikul was already world No.5 on her first entry into the top 10.
With seven-top 10 finishes, Thitikul never dropped lower than sixth before adding her second LPGA title at the Arkansas Championship in September.
Two consecutive top-10 outings followed before a sixth-place finish at the BMW Ladies Championship last month, securing Thitikul enough ranking points to oust South Korea’s Jin-young from top spot after 38 weeks at the summit.
Ko was the LPGA’s rookie of the year in 2014, but had to wait until her second season on the Tour to become world No.1, albeit at almost two years younger than Thitikul.
Adding her 18th LPGA title at the BMW Ladies Championship, two-time major champion Ko has already enjoyed a career most would dream of.
Still only 25, the New Zealander is as well-placed as any to speak to the pressures of being labeled a child prodigy, and predicted Thitikul’s imminent rise to the top following her most recent win.
“The golf that Atthaya has been playing has been absolutely amazing,” Ko said. “I think she’s got a run to be world No.1.
“Having been in that position I think it’s such a cool experience and it seems like she’s handling all the media pressure really well. That just shows what kind of a world class player she is.”
Thitikul is the second Thai player to claim the women’s top spot after Ariya Jutanugarn in 2017, and leads a recent surge in exciting young players to emerge from her country.
In April, compatriot Ratchanon “TK” Chantananuwat became the youngest male player to win on a major Tour, just a month after his 15th birthday.