RANCHO MIRAGE (California) • The 50th edition of the ANA Inspiration, the first of the five women's golf Majors this year, will be remembered for Patty Tavatanakit's mastery of the course at Mission Hills Country Club and of the moment.
The 21-year-old led from start to finish to become the first rookie winner since Juli Inkster in 1984 and the first Thai champion in tournament history.
She closed with a four-under 68 - her fourth consecutive sub-70 round - for a cumulative score of 18-under 270 to hold off a fast-closing Lydia Ko by two strokes on Sunday, making her first LPGA title a Major championship.
With no fans on the course because of coronavirus restrictions, there were no roars to make Patty aware of what was happening in front of her but she never once glanced at the leaderboard.
"I didn't feel the need to," she said. "I just wanted to play like it was another round of golf."
Patty, who averaged more than 300 yards off the tee for the week, began the day with a five-stroke lead over the field and an eight-stroke advantage over Ko.
For all the talk about her length, her touch on and around the greens proved clutch.
She chipped in for an eagle at the par-five second, nearly chipped in two other times on the back nine and made an eight-foot putt to save par at No. 15 to keep Ko, the 2016 ANA Inspiration champion and former world No. 1, at a club's length.
Playing two groups ahead of the front runner, the New Zealander applied more heat than a desert sun with a front-nine seven-under 29, a tournament record, but the leader did not wilt.
Under the most intense pressure, Patty, who was 103rd starting the event but now moves into the top 100, produced her second bogey-free round of the week.
"I felt like I gave myself a good run at it," said Ko, whose last LPGA victory was in 2018. "But maybe Patty was just a bit too far away."
Yards off the tee on average for Patty Tavatanakit last week at the year's first Major.K
Before sleeping on her first 54-hole lead in an LPGA Tour event, Patty said her mindset on Sunday would be to "keep on the pedal".
In 2019, in her second ANA Inspiration appearance as an amateur, she closed with a 68 to finish tied for 26th. She was a standout sophomore at University of California, Los Angeles at the time, but her presence at the event, a launching pad for amateurs, was not a given.
The inaugural Augusta National Women's Amateur was being played at the same time.
The opportunity it offered to play the final round on one of the world's most storied courses had to be weighed against the chance to measure one's game against the world's most celebrated players.
Patty was one of a handful of eligible players who chose to bypass the amateur event to compete at Mission Hills.
The decision, she said, questioned by many at the time, set Patty on a path that ended on Sunday with her taking the winner's traditional dip in Poppie's Pond, the water hazard surrounding the 18th island green.
Her top-30 showing in 2019, she said, convinced her that she was ready to take a leap of faith and turn professional.
By year's end, she had won three times on the LPGA's developmental tour. Her 2020 rookie season, which has been extended through to this year, featured a top-five finish at the Gainbridge LPGA in February.
Patty suggested that her commitment to the ANA Inspiration in 2019 helped her immensely this year. The four rounds back then gave her enough course knowledge to commit to the aggressive lines she took.
Her eyes were already wet before she jumped into the pond, having accomplished her own target of winning this year and her father's goal of his daughter getting into the top 100.
"It feels great to be a Major champion," she said. "It still hasn't really sunk in yet, the fact I just turned 21 six months ago and now I'm a Major champion on my rookie year. Just crazy."
The victory has also made her eligible to join the elite field for the April 29-May 2 HSBC Women's World Championship in Singapore.