Thai rookie holds off Lydia Ko to win ANA Inspiration for 1st victory on women's tour
Lydia Ko wasn't about to let the major-championship egg hunt come easy.
Fending off a spirited charge from Ko, the event's 2016 champion, Tavatanakit claimed women’s golf's first major title of the season with a bogey-free final-round 68 en route to a two-shot win at the ANA (scores). She became only the second rookie to win in the storied history of the event, following Juli Inkster in 1984.
The impressive wire-to-wire victory – just the fourth in the event's history – was the first LPGA title for Tavatanakit, a 21-year-old native of Bangkok, Thailand, who played her college golf 100 miles west at UCLA, where she was a two-time All-American.
Finishing the event at 18 under, Tavatanakit came within a shot of tying the tournament scoring record, shot by Dottie Pepper in 1999.
“There's a calm, some calmness in me, and I don't know why,” said a robed Tavatanakit after taking the victor's traditional leap into Poppie's Pond, adjacent to the 18th green at Mission Hills’ Dinah Shore Tournament Course. “It feels great to be a major champion. It hasn't really sunk in yet. I just turned 21 six months ago, and now I'm a major champion in my rookie year. Just . . . crazy.”
Taking a five-shot lead into the final round, Tavatanakit, known as “Patty T.” in golf circles, overpowered the Shore Course throughout the week, averaging 326 yards from the tee for the first three rounds of play.
Per local virus mandates, the event was played sans fans for the second time in seven months, following a 2020 version of the tournament shifted from its traditional April date to a September playing.
Ko, three groups ahead of the winner, authored a front-side 29, the lowest nine-hole tally in tournament history; she'd finish with a bogey-free 62, tying the tournament's single-round scoring record, set by Lorena Ochoa (first round) in 2006.
On the par-5 home hole, Ko's tee shot found the secondary cut on the left; provided the two-shot deficit, she waffled about going for the island green in two, before ultimately opting to lay up.
“I don't know if it was on the coverage, but I was like, ‘Dilemma, dilemma . . .,’ ” Ko said. “I tried to hit my drive a little harder, because knew that would be the only way I would have a comfortable yardage in. And even though it was in the rough, they cut the rough so nice that it gave me questions about going for it.”
For Tavatanakit, still technically an LPGA rookie by virtue of a curtailed 2020 campaign shortened by the pandemic, the victory comes in just her 18th start as a tour member.
Playing in demanding, near-triple-digit desert heat, shading herself with an umbrella between shots and stalking the grounds behind aviator shades, the rookie wasted little time stating her Sunday presence. After a casual par on the opening hole, Tavatanakit elicited a well-earned fist pump with a chip-in for eagle from the ryegrass rough on the par-5 second.
Akin to her process throughout the week, Tavatanakit kept her foot on the gas Sunday.
“That's been my mentality since the first day,” she said. “Just keep pedaling. You never know what's going to happen. Just keep going and going.”
In 2019, she was named Rookie of the Year on the Symetra Tour, where she won three events in 11 starts. After her ANA win, Tavatanakit credited the Symetra with helping her learn how to close out tournaments on the pro level.
“The Symetra was huge,” she said. “I learned how to win out there. It made me comfortable to feel like I could do it. I'd tell anybody turning pro to go to the Symetra; it's a preparation tour.”
With the victory, Tavatanakit becomes just the second major winner, male or female, from Thailand, joining two-time major champ Ariya Jutanugarn. Tavatanakit’s victory further marks the sixth consecutive international winner at the ANA, a trend of which American players undoubtedly will take note in a Solheim Cup year.
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