Patty Tavatanakit made her professional debut at the U.S. Women’s Open at the end of May after two years of collegiate golf at UCLA. That start was overshadowed by the debuts of Maria Fassi and Jennifer Kupcho with Fassi finishing T12. Except for friends, family and a few Bruins in Charleston, S.C., almost no one would have noticed the long-hitting 19-year-old with more A’s and T’s in her name than Mississippi has S’s.
But if you follow the women’s game, you likely know Tavatanakit now, especially after she made headlines last Sunday at the Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic, playing on a sponsor exemption. Early on Sunday, Tavatanakit shot a final-round, 11-under 61, a round that included three eagles and five birdies. Her 20-under total tied for the lead before the final two groups teed off and proved to be good enough for a T15 finish. Golf Channel even broke away from its coverage of the European Tour’s Dubai Duty Free Irish Open to cover Tavatanakit’s final few holes as she chased 59, Annika Sörenstam’s 18-hole LPGA scoring record.
But when the Bangkok native talked to me about her college golf experience, she was frank about her time in Southern California.
“Over the last three months (of the college golf season), I realized I just wanted to play golf and focus on it and have that as my career because no matter how long it takes, I want be a pro golfer, so I said why not just start now,” Tavatanikit said. “I can always go back to school and get my degree.”
She really didn’t take to the college golf atmosphere. That’s why she turned pro after earning Symetra Tour status at LPGA Q-Series last fall.
“When I wasn’t playing well at the college level or I wasn’t dominating, that spoke louder to me than anything because then I couldn’t focus fully and be ‘all in’ on my golf game,” she said. “It was because I had to study and keep my grades up for school and for the team. … I need to focus a lot on myself. And to be honest, it wasn’t helping me to be in a team environment because you’re with a lot of people. It wasn’t healthy for me.”
“I’m just going with the flow here. One bad round and one bad shot isn’t going to bother me.” – Patty Tavatanakit
Being comfortable playing as an individual, out on her own, showed at Thornberry Creek.
“I really didn’t think about shooting low and that’s probably why I did,” Tavatanakit said. “I was just focusing on each shot, and it just helped me hone in on my game more on each shot tee to green. … I was just caught up in the moment, a good moment. I was just converting all of those eagles and birdies and they just happened to add up to 61.”
It was just her second LPGA start as a pro but she did shoot a closing 68 in April to finish T26 in the ANA Inspiration, an event she played instead of the Augusta National Women’s Amateur.
“It felt like it was a really long week,” Tavatanakit said of Thornberry Creek. “I guess I was just used to the three-day format on the Symetra Tour but the last round made it all up with me being kind of tired but it was a really good round. It was something I learned from and took a lot of confidence away from it.
“I felt comfortable that week because I got to see Lilia Vu (her former UCLA teammate), Jennifer Kupcho, Sophia Schubert – they are all my friends and we got to hang out, and talk and catch up, so it didn’t feel too intense for me. I liked it a lot that week – catch up with my girls and it was nice to see the fans.”
She nearly doubled her earnings in just one week on the LPGA compared to her Symetra Tour starts, which included a runner-up finish at the Prasco Charity Championship. During her four starts as a pro, Tavatanakit has earned nearly $70,000.
Tavatanakit doesn’t have any more LPGA sponsor exemptions lined up currently. Her main objective is playing on the Symetra Tour and earning enough money to start next season on the LPGA. Her quest to earn an LPGA card by finishing in the top 10 on the Symetra Tour money list continues at this week’s Donald Ross Classic at French Lick Resort in Indiana. She opened with a sparkling 5-under-par 66 to take the lead by a stroke entering Friday’s second round.
“I’m just going with the flow here,” Tavatanakit said. “One bad round and one bad shot isn’t going to bother me. I’m going to have a whole career so I don’t think it affects me if I play bad. But I have low expectations just because how far I am behind everyone on the money list.
“I mean, I do have expectations, but overall I don’t think, oh I have to win this tournament, or I have to finish top-10, top-five.
“I’m just out here trying to learn how to be a pro, get my card and get to the LPGA to contend out there next year.”
Patty Tavatanakit in her pro debut during this year’s U.S. Women’s Open. Photo: Darren Carroll, Copyright USGA
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