SINGAPORE - The pressure of a four-way play-off did not faze Thai teenager Atthaya Thitikul, as she won the inaugural Women's Amateur Asia Pacific at Sentosa on Saturday (Feb 24) to secure places in two of this year's Major championships.
The 15-year-old carded a closing 71 to join Japan's Yuna Nishimura (69), the Philippines' Yuka Saso (68) and New Zealand's Wenyung Keh (67) with an eight-under total of 276 over the 6,456-yard New Tanjong course.
She said: "My golf today wasn't so good, even though I started so good and played well in the play-off. But I didn't ever really get nervous because I came here to learn and get experience.
"Now, I'm so excited to play in two more Majors. I'm really looking forward to returning to the Women's British Open and I would like to make the cut this time, but my main objective is always to play happy and gain more experience."
In a tight finale, Atthaya narrowly missed birdie-putt chances to win on the first two extra holes on No. 18 but she tapped in for par on the long par-four 12th before 17-year-old Yuna missed a long par putt to concede victory. Keh, 20, and Yuka, 16, exited after the first and second extra holes respectively.
For her, the key to victory was keeping calm even when shots were missed. She said: "When I made a double bogey, I didn't think it would mean that I wouldn't win. It didn't affect me because there were a lot of holes to go. I was a bit nervous, but I just talked with my caddie and stayed relaxed."
Atthaya played in her first LPGA event at the Honda LPGA Thailand last February at the age of 14 and her stock is on the rise as she became the Ladies European Tour's youngest-ever winner last July and won gold medals in the SEA Games individual and team events in Malaysia a month later.
Her win at the Women's Amateur Asia-Pacific has now earned her invitations to the ANA Inspiration (March 29-April 1) at Mission Hills Country Club in California and the Women's British Open (Aug 2-5) at Royal Lytham & St Annes Golf Club in Lancashire, England and next week's HSBC Women's World Championship, also at Sentosa Golf Club.
The Women's Amateur Asia-Pacific started with a field of 83 players representing 18 nations, with 48 aged 18 or under, and 53 making the halfway cut. The tournament is an initiative by the Asia Pacific Golf Confederation and The R&A to nurture talent and provide a pathway for the region's elite female amateurs to the international stage.
Although narrowly defeated, Keh took in the positives. The University of Washington student and New Zealand's top-ranked amateur said: "It was a great week and I'm happy I gave myself a chance. This was a new experience I can really learn from and I don't think I've been in a four-way play-off before.
"I just wanted to enjoy myself this week, play on an amazing golf course and it just turned out really well."
Callista Chen, 19, was Singapore's highest-placed golfer after every round, finishing in a tie for 37th after rounds of 72, 72, 74 and 78. The top-ranked Singaporean in the field, Chen missed out on her target of a top-20 finish but walked away with a world of experience.
"This event has been really eye-opening and it has been great to be able to compete in such a large-scale event. Playing in this event alone is already quite an achievement. Playing and competing against the best in Asia-Pacific, you learn a lot," said Chen, who hit the event's opening tee shot on Wednesday.
"There was a little bit of pressure but I guess everyone just wanted me to do well so it was actually motivating to see so many people behind me. I feel that I've become a slightly better player, being able to compete under pressure, so despite the score today, it's a big step in the right direction."