'It Doesn’t Matter How Poor A Girl’s Family Might Be, If They're Good Enough, They’ll Make It'

Lewine Mair provides a fascinating insight into the Thai golfers making a serious impact on the women's game

Thai Women Golfers
(Image credit: Getty Images)

There was a young girl in a wheelchair waiting outside the scorers’ portacabin at the 2019 HSBC Women’s World championship in Singapore.  One player after another paused to sign an autograph for the child, and then came Thailand’s Moriya Jutanugarn, sister of the 2016 Women’s British Open champion, Ariya.

When Moriya saw the girl, she came to a full-stop and switched to a squat position, the better to engage in friendly conversation. And there she stayed for several minutes, chatting quietly away to her companion. If you’ve ever met Moriya, you will know that she was simply being her usual Thai self.

Thailand is known as “the Land of Smiles” and, ever since the Thai golfers first appeared on the LET and LPGA tours, they have made for a fascinating study. As the late King Bhumibol once said of his people: “They are polite. Honorable politeness. They have courage but are not harsh - strong but gentle.”

Again, it is worth mentioning how Boonchu Ruangkit, one of the country’s more famous male golfers, once advised that Tiger was thrice blessed in having a Thai mother. He said that her ways, with particular reference to her powers of meditation, had seeped from mother to son. “You see it in Tiger’s on-course serenity and in the respect he has for his elders,” said Ruangkit. “He always affords people the courtesy of looking them in the eye.”

Thai Women Golfers

Moriya Jutanugarn

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Tiger, of course, was reared in America, whereas the Thai women on the LPGA and LET tours spent their earliest golfing days in the hands of kindly Thai administrators who had a very different way of doing things from their opposite numbers in the West. To record what their golfers have achieved on the ‘major’ front in the last eight years, Ariya Jutanugarn captured the 2016 Women’s British Open and followed up with a win in the US Open two years later. And, three years on from then, Patty Tavatanakit sprang from nowhere to win what was then the ANA championship and now The Chevron.

The leading light of the moment is Atthaya Thitikul who, though she has only just turned 20, finished in the top three in the ’22 Rolex World Rankings behind Lydia Ko and Nelly Korda. Last December, at a time when she was still at the top of that list, the Royal Thai Embassy in Washington sent out a press release to say as much.

For the moment, though, Thitikul is no different from Moriya Jutanugarn in waiting to add a major to her mounting earnings. Thitikul was nine when she joined the Thai national junior squad for a trip to America which included the World Junior championships in Florida.

That it was her first trip abroad and her parents were happy to leave her in the hands of the Thai hierarchy, was something which Chris McCalmont, a full-time and famous caddie who plies his trade on the LPGA Tour, was able to explain.  When McCalmont made Thailand his base, he marvelled at the way the Thai Golf Federation operated. “Not only do they look after their young golfers as if they are their own,” he said,  “but they pay all the bills. It doesn’t matter how poor a girl’s family might be, if the youngster is good enough, she’ll make it.”

The children had such a good relationship with their captains and managers that it came naturally to them to follow in their footsteps when the next generation of youngsters came on the scene. For instance, Thitikul, when she played in the 2018 HSBC in Singapore, said that Ariya Jutanugarn was able to pass on — from her own experience of highs and lows — that mistakes will often turn out to be “the key to success.” As for Moriya, she had told the junior virtually everything she knew about course management.

Another thing you had to like about the then 15-year-old Thitikul was her on-course demeanour.  If ever she made a mistake, she did not swivel round to look for someone to blame. Instead, she apologised to her caddie, a man who went under the name of Yod. “I’m so sorry,” I heard her say after a miscued attempt to catch a distant green. Yod laughed out loud and, very soon, she was soon laughing with him.

Thai Women Golfers

Atthaya Thitikul finished third on the 2022 Rolex World Rankings

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Only a matter of weeks ago, a new teenager, Elia Galiksky, joined the talented Thai fold when she won the Asia Pacific Amateur championship in Singapore. The tears which began to flow in the wake of what was a five-shot victory were not hers but her mother’s. Elia, for her part, had taken everything in her stride. When she teed up at the start of the week she was only interested in making the cut. Come the end of the event and she was thinking she had what it takes to be a professional.

The Thais’ genteel ways know no bounds. Every one of them would seem to be blessed with this quality, though I suspect that none of them will ever impress more than Moriya. Away from the wheelchair scenario, there was that time when she first came to the UK - in 2008 - to play in the Duke of York Young Champions at Hesketh. Moriya, would you believe, won this mixed event, coming from five shots back to finish a shot ahead of Jordan Spieth. No-one will be surprised to learn that Spieth keeps pretty quiet about that result, but Moriya is no different. To this day, she colours at any mention of that day of days. That's how modest she is.

Thai Women Golfers

Ariya Jutanugarn won the 2016 Women’s British Open 

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Meanwhile, it is not just the players who are making headway. Doctor Prin Singhamart, a physicist with riches beyond the dreams of avarice, has every intention of making the LPGA-LET co-sanctioned Trust Scottish Women’s Open a major.

At the same time, she is intent on bringing her physicist’s knowledge to bear on reducing the time it takes for a golfer to go from beginner to card-holding professional status. Where, at the moment, it takes at least seven years, she thinks she can reduce it to two and, with this in mind, she has robots and 9,000 ‘live’ experts around the world collecting the appropriate technological data. “I want to make history and I want to make the impossible possible,” said Dr Prim.

What an extraordinary feat that would be, though maybe she would do the game more of a favour were she to find a way of turning a 4 1/2 hour round into a 2 1/2 hour affair.

Lewine Mair

Lewine Mair was the first woman to be signed on as a sports’ correspondent for a national daily paper. She was with the Daily Telegraph for 18 years, six of them covering sport in general and the remaining 12 as the paper’s golf correspondent. She has also written for The Times and, today, is a regular contributor to the American digital magazine, Global Golf Post.