RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – Patty Tavatanakit can remember the exact day she dedicated her life to playing golf. It was Jan. 3, 2008.
It was then that an 8-year old Tavatanakit, from her home in Thailand, watched television footage of Tiger Woods winning a golf tournament. As Woods fist-pumped in celebration, it was at that moment that Tavatanakit decided that she "wanted to be like him one day."
On Sunday, Tavatanakit fulfilled that dream.
Exactly 4,840 days after a young girl from Bangkok dreamed of winning on the major stage, she earned her maiden win on the LPGA with a victory Sunday at the ANA Inspiration. The win comes just two years after she finished low amateur and posted on social media that she hoped to some day make the leap into Poppie’s Pond.
“It's a dream come true,” Tavatanakit told Golf Channel after her round. “Every time I play here, I remember exactly I was on this green receiving my low amateur award and I saw they were jumping and I took a Snapchat and the caption was, ‘One day.’ It's been crazy.”
Tavatanakit joins Ariya Jutanugarn as the only two players from Thailand, male or female, to win one of golf’s major championships. On Sunday, she flirted with the 72-hole scoring record at the ANA before finishing at 18 under with a total of 270, one stroke shy of Dottie Pepper’s record that was set in 1999.
“I was trying to go up to 20, but the putts weren't dropping,” Tavatanakit said. “I wasn't going to force it. Looking back I would say it was really tough.”
Tavatanakit followed Woods’ footsteps, winning in record-setting fashion and in a way that hasn’t been done in decades on the LPGA. While both were 21 years old when they both won their first major, Tavatanakit did Woods one better, getting her first major victory in her rookie season on Tour. Woods won his first major in his second season on Tour at the 1997 Masters Tournament.
Tavatanakit is the first rookie in more than 30 years to win at Mission Hills Country Club. She’s also just the fourth player to go wire-to-wire at the ANA Inspiration. Again, something not even Woods could do in his first major victory.
“It still hasn't really sunk in yet the fact that I just turned 21 six months ago and now I'm a major champion in my rookie year,” Tavatanakit said. “Just crazy.”
In 1997, Woods was one of the longest hitters on Tour, second only to John Daly. His length, combined with his all-around game and premium on fitness, signaled a new age in men's pro golf. Tavatanakit’s victory is having the same impact.
While many have had the length, few have had the complete game to dominate in a way that Tavatanakit did at Mission Hills. Tavatanakit ranks second on Tour in driving distance at 283 yards. At the ANA Inspiration, she averaged 323 yards off the tee, which gave her an advantage over her competitors as she was able to place her golf ball in places that Golf Channel’s Judy Rankin, the 1976 ANA Inspiration champion, could only marvel.
But Tavatanakit, an AJGA player of the year and first-team All-American at UCLA, is accurate, too. During the week, she hit 84 percent of greens and 66 percent of fairways.
“The only caveat is, can she use that power from the fairway?” Rankin asked during the telecast. “If she can do that, pretty hard to beat somebody like that.”
Tavatanakit is just the first of the up-and-coming long-hitters to win on the LPGA. Bianca Pagdanganan, a fellow rookie, leads the Tour in driving distance for the second year in a row. Both rookies were also first timers in 2020 but had their status carry over to 2021 due to the pandemic. In 2020, Pagdanganan carded back-to-back 65s at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Aronimink Golf Club, a course Inbee Park said was one of the longest she’s ever played. Pagdangnan finished T-9. Tavatanakit may be the first, but more are coming up behind her.
An 8-year-old Tavatanakit knew she wanted to be a golfer and dreamed of the day she would become a major champion. There are certain dates that define a life: birthdays, anniversaries, holidays. Jan. 3, 2008 may be a day simply celebrated in Tavatanakit’s heart as the day she committed herself to the game, but her win on April 4 at the ANA Inspiration will be forever celebrated alongside the 50th playing of the ANA Inspiration.
And it’s a day that Tavatanakit will never forget.