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Superstars from around the world have made the LPGA Tour what it is today – a global organization with members from 36 countries, which includes an ever-growing contingent from Thailand. And that’s where the LPGA Tour makes its next stop.
The Honda LPGA Thailand kicks off a three-week stretch of events that make up the Tour’s annual Asia swing. In 2023, nearly a dozen Thai players are poised to compete in the 16th playing of the Honda LPGA Thailand. It’s an event that is particularly special to those who call the country home. In 2021, Thailand’s own Ariya Jutanguarn became the first Thai to win the championship in what was one of the proudest moments of her career.
“I’m always told myself the only tournament I really wanted to win, and I haven’t won yet is LPGA in Thailand,” Jutanugarn said in 2022, following her victory. “You know, I didn’t want to say this to other people, but one of my biggest dreams was to win in my home country. And I did it last year. It just feels great.”
In 1998, Se Ri Pak ushered in a new, global era in the women’s game when she inspired a generation of Korean girls with her win at the U.S. Women’s Open. Within a decade her impact was felt on the LPGA Tour when Inbee Park won her first major title in 2008, also at the U.S. Women’s Open. Currently, there are 28 players from Korea who are members of the LPGA Tour.
While young girls in Thailand didn’t have a female star like Pak to aspire to, they drew their own inspiration from their male counterparts, Thongchai Jaidee and Kiradech Aphibarnrat, who competed on the DP World and PGA Tours. And in 2004, Russy Gulyanamitta became the first player from Thailand to join the LPGA Tour.
By 2015, six Thai players had followed in Gulyanamitta’s footsteps, including Ariya, who would become a pioneer for women’s golf. In 2016, Jutanugarn became the first player from Thailand, male or female, to win one of golf’s major championships with her victory at the AIG Women’s Open. She also became the first Thai to ascend to No. 1 in the Rolex Rankings.
While it took a decade before Pak’s impact was felt on the LPGA Tour, it took half as long for players from Thailand to make a mark in Jutanugarn’s wake.
In 2021, Patty Tavatanakit became the second Thai to capture a major title when she won the Chevron Championship. And in 2022, Atthaya Thitikul joined Jutanugarn as the only other player from Thailand to reach the top of the Rolex Rankings.
Third behind only the United States and the Republic of Korea in terms of numbers, Thailand currently boasts 14 LPGA Tour members. Five of those players – Atthaya Thitikul, Patty Tavatanakit, Moriya Jutanugarn, Ariya Jutanugarn, and Pajaree Anannarukarn – are ranked within the top 100 in the Rolex Rankings and each of them has won on the LPGA Tour.
Two decades ago it would have been tough to imagine the influence that the young girls of Korea and Thailand might someday have on the women’s game. But pioneers from across the globe like Pak, Park, Jutanugarn, and Thitikul have made an impact the likes of which the women’s game has never seen. And these superstars helped make the LPGA Tour the global one that it is today.