What were you doing at 19? Chances are pretty good you weren’t prepping for a possible return to the No.1 ranking in the world, no matter what your chosen profession. It’s also a pretty decent bet that you weren’t putting the finishing touches on your rookie-of-the-year speech while also trying to capture your second player-of-the-year title in two years on two different continents.
You almost certainly weren’t 96 hours away from a possible $2 million payday.
But more than anything, at 19, you likely weren’t a poised and polished professional in front of the camera, fielding questions from a room full of strangers, in a second language.
In other words, you, and I, and everyone we know were not Atthaya Thitikul.
The smiling Thai teenager who locked up the Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year title last week came into the media center at Tiberon Golf Club for another pre-tournament press conference just about the time Keith Urban hit an E chord on his Gibson no more than 40 yards away. The country star is playing a private concert at the CME Group Tour Championship on Wednesday night and his soundcheck started right as Thitikul took a question. Even a Grammy-winning artist would have been impressed by Thitkul’s cool.
“All the things that have happened in this year are really crazy to me,” the girl they call Jeeno said with another huge smile. “I reached world No. 1. Being able to get two wins here and get the Rolex Rookie of the Year is really crazy. It’s really amazing.
“At the same time I think it’s because all the people surrounding me are a pretty good support (mechanism) and got me at this moment. Hard work as well at the beginning of the year helped. But, yeah, it’s really amazing, and it really means the world to me and my team.”
Like most charismatic young people, she doesn’t realize how dynamic she is. Nor does she seem aware of that everyone is not that deep a thinker.
“All players want to be No. 1 in the world,” she said. “But at the same time the news that I would be No. 1, it’s crazy and it means a lot. I was so proud of myself, but when some time passed, like one or two days of being No. 1, it’s still the same, I guess. You know, you have No. 1 under your belt, but I’m still thinking I am the same. I am the same person that has to improve a lot. I’m just 19 years old, the same person who doesn’t have that much experience, because this is my first year. Still young. Still a long way to go. So, I think No. 1 makes me humble. Like, oh my God, I know (I’m No.1), but, guys, I’m not that good.”
Yeah, she really is, and not just inside the ropes.
When asked how she got the nickname Jeeno, Thitikul joked, “All Thai people have nicknames because their names are too long to say.” Then she explained her nickname was originally Jeen (pronounced Jean) because in Thai that refers to the Chinese and her father has some Chinese in his ancestry. “Then my coach called me Jeeno, and I thought, ‘Oh, that sounds good.’ I just took it from that time,” she said.
Jeeno won the Player of the Year title on the Ladies European Tour a year ago. With a win in Naples, she would become only the third player in LPGA Tour history to win Rookie of the Year and Player of the Year in the same season. Still, she remains grounded and realistic.
“My goal on the LPGA Tour, the first goal was to be able to win,” she said. “To be able to win on the LPGA Tour, I think it’s pretty cool because it’s really hard to win. As you can see, some people have been out here for a while, but they haven’t (won) once. I know it’s really hard. You play against the best players in the world every week. Then you don’t know who is going to come up next because everyone can shoot really low scores every day.
“I had a really great year already. I would say this week it’s like a bonus week for everyone – four more rounds to end our season. It’s such a bonus week for me as well. I just want to go have fun and enjoy because, like, I really need to rest.”
She laughed and everyone laughed with her. She thanked everyone, waved, and exited stage left.
Just then, Urban hit another lick at his soundcheck, unaware that the biggest star around had just walked away to prep for her again.