Thai prodigy Atthaya ‘Jean’ Thitikul – who last year became the youngest player to win a Ladies European Tour event – shot six-under-par 65 to hold a one-stroke lead over Japan’s Yuka Yasuda after the first round of the inaugural Women’s Amateur Asia-Pacific at Sentosa Golf Club.
Korean Hae-ran Ryu and Japan’s Mone Inami were joint third after rounds of 68 put them one ahead of an eight-strong group including Malaysia’s Natasha Oon and New Zealand’s Wenyung Keh.
Mohan Du was the leading Chinese after posting a 70 to tie for 13th, one stroke ahead of Thailand’s Paphangkorn ‘Patty’ Tavatanakit, the event’s top-ranked player at 13th in the World Amateur Golf Ranking (WAGR).
Thitikul, who turned 15 on Tuesday, is one of two players in the field to have won a professional event, having won the Ladies European Thailand Championship in Pattaya last July before the-then 14-year-old won the Southeast Asian Games individual and team golds in Malaysia a month later.
The second-ranked Thai in the field at 53rd on the WAGR, Thitikul again showed her nerveless appetite for the big occasion by carding eight birdies over the New Tanjong course. Teeing off on 10, she birdied her first two holes, bogeyed 12, then birdied 13, 14 and 18 to move to four-under at the turn.
Birdies at one, three and eight – where she holed a 25-foot putt – moved her to seven-under before she three-putted the par-four ninth for bogey, finishing one behind her best-ever score for 18 holes.
“I feel so happy with my result because my putting, driving, irons, chipping – everything – were so good,” said Thitikul, who celebrated her birthday at the championship’s gala dinner on Tuesday evening.
“I hit 15 or 16 greens in regulation, had a lot of birdies and just enjoyed it so much. I don’t think about winning. Every day, I just think about enjoying my game and doing my best – that’s my goal this week.”
The 17-year-old Yasuda also teed off on 10, birdied 11 then made her move midway through the round, holing 10-12-foot birdie putts on 18, one and two. Another birdie at seven was followed by her only bogey of the day at the par-four eighth, where she hit her approach into a greenside bunker, before her sixth birdie of the day on nine put her within one of the lead.
“I only missed two greens today, so it was a very comfortable round,” said Yasuda. “I had a lot of birdie chances and I played the round as I planned it. I started well today and it’s good to finish just one behind the leader, so I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”
Oon, 16, teed off on one and bounced back from a bogey on her second hole with birdies on three, five, nine and 10 to reach three-under. She responded to a bogey at 12 with another birdie at 16 before hitting over the green on the par-three 17th to again fall back to two-under.
“Two-under was my goal before the round so when I went three-under, I went, ‘yay’, but then I went two-under again. I did that twice. I landed my tee-shot on the green on 17 but it just rolled over – it was heartbreaking,” said the bubbly Oon.
“I had a bogey early on, but then the birdies started coming and I started getting my rhythm. My chipping was my highlight. I made two up-and-downs out of three and they were really good chips. This course is long, but I love it. It’s in really good condition. We’re playing in an LPGA-class golf course.”
Oon, who has played twice in the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia, was also full of praise for the first-round leader. “Atthaya is a really good player. I’m not surprised at that score. She’s really good. It’s always happening with her. I played a round with her when she was 12 and she was hitting five-under.”
The Beijing-based Du – whose nickname is ‘Momo’ – was happy after a steady round and said more could be expected of the five-strong Chinese contingent over the last three rounds.
Teeing off on 10, the 16-year-old birdied her opening hole, dropped a shot at 17 and birdied 18. She holed an “almost 60 feet” birdie putt on the par-three fourth before another bogey at seven.
“I’m happy. I played as I planned and followed the course strategy I set out on Tuesday,” said Du, the top-performing Chinese ahead of Yifan ‘Kristine’ Ji (72), Lei ‘Angelina’ Ye (73) and six-foot tall Wenbo ‘Maggie’ Liu (75), the field’s second-ranked player at 20 in the WAGR.
“It’s okay, we still have a chance. Maybe we will shoot very low scores tomorrow.”
Callista Chen, the highest-ranked of the field’s six Singaporeans, hit the WAAP’s first-ever tee-shot off hole one at 8.00am and moved to two-under after five holes before finishing with a 72 to lead the local charge.
“The round was pretty good as I hit some good shots, made some putts and played pretty safe and smart,” said Chen, who said before the event that she hoped to finish in the “top 15 or 20”.
“My putting was key because the wind picked up a little bit so getting near the pins was a little bit tough. I knuckled down and holed the six or seven footers coming back, which helped a lot. If a few more first putts drop tomorrow, that will be even better. I’ll keep a similar strategy and play smart.”
The 72-hole stroke play event features 83 players representing 18 nations, with 48 players aged 18 years or under. The field includes 15 players from the WAGR’s top 100 comprising four from Korea, three from Japan, two each from Australia, Thailand and Chinese Taipei, and one each from China and the Philippines.
The winner will earn invitations to both the ANA Inspiration (29 March-1 April) at Mission Hills Country Club in California, USA, and the Ricoh Women’s British Open (2-5 August) at Royal Lytham & St Annes Golf Club in Lancashire, England, as well as next week’s 11th HSBC Women’s World Championship, also at Sentosa Golf Club.
The Women’s Amateur Asia-Pacific championship has been developed by the Asia Pacific Golf Confederation (APGC) and The R&A to nurture talent and provide a pathway for Asia’s elite female amateurs to the international stage.
Entry to the Women’s Amateur Asia-Pacific championship is free of charge.