Most 14-year-olds are happy to hang out with their friends and put off writing that essay for Freshman English class.
Atthaya Thitikul wasn’t your typical 14-year-old. The Thai phenom won her first professional event just four months after her 14th birthday, capturing the LET’s Ladies European Thailand Championship to become the youngest-ever winner of a pro event.
Four years later and after turning professional in 2020, Thitikul has become one of the best players in the women’s game. Her Rolex Women’s World Golf Ranking of No. 18 matches her age, an age that saw her take two LET victories and 14 top-10 finishes en route to adding another “youngest-ever” to her list after becoming the youngest winner of the Race to Costa del Sol, the LET’s season-long Order of Merit.
“It's been a really great year for me, and then I feel really scared to be out,” said Thitikul. “This is my first year on the LET, far away from home, and didn't have like lots of experience that much. But I'm glad that I can keep learning and keep working on my game to be better.”
Thitikul came to Alabama directly from the LET’s season finale, finishing in a tie for third at the Andalucia Costa del Sol Open de España. This is just her second competitive appearance in the United States, joining the 2018 Chevron Championship where she finished 20th as an amateur. Admitting that jet lag has been an issue, Thitikul has been working to learn the Bermudagrass courses at Magnolia Grove, a far cry from the layouts she’s seen across Asia and Europe.
But while the 18-year-old may be young in years, she is beyond mature in knowing her place on the golf course.
“(I’m going to) focus on my game and trying to be calm out there and then focus on what I can do and try my best out there,” said Thitikul. “I mean, like if I can get it, it's great, but if not, it's okay, I know I have a lot of chances to get it.”
VIRGINIA ELENA CARTA MAKING HER WAY ON THE COURSE AND IN THE OFFICE
Duke University grad Virginia Elena Carta certainly has the international travel part of professional golf life down pat. Her last month since making the cut on the number at Stage II of LPGA Qualifying School was a tour of Europe before coming to southern Alabama for Q-Series.
“I actually went to England to train a little bit and then I had to go to Spain to try the courses for the LET Q-School,” said Carta, who lives in Fiume Veneto in northern Italy. “Then I was home in Italy for a little while practicing and really getting ready for Q-Series.”
Carta graduated from Duke in 2019 after a celebrated amateur career that saw her take the 2016 NCAA National Championship individual title and finish second at the 2016 U.S. Women’s Amateur. But unlike most aspiring golfers, Carta put professional competitive goals aside and instead focused on professional business goals. A four-time Academic All-American, Carta pursued a master’s degree in environmental policy at Cambridge University. She kept her game honed as a member of The Oxford and Cambridge Golfing Society, becoming just the fourth woman ever to compete in the University Golf Match, an annual competition between Oxford and Cambridge.
“I kept on being a little bit involved with golf, just in a different way really than Duke women's golf was,” said Carta. “So I focused very much on my academics, and that's how then I got a little bit into this sort of path.”
Since she graduated from Cambridge in October 2020, Carta has continued to balance her business and athletic careers. She turned professional and quickly earned two top-10 finishes on the Ladies European Tour, all while working as a consultant for Domino Printing, a technology company based in Cambridge. But the next month is all about golf, with two weeks of LPGA Q-Series in Alabama followed immediately by LET Q-School at Spain’s Real Golf La Manga Club.
“I think it's nice to have two separate things to do in your life. I think that's keeping me stress-free for the most part. Obviously, a little bit of stress, but...” she said with a small smile and a reassured glint in her eye.