What were you doing at 19? Chances are very good that you weren’t preparing for a possible return to the number one ranking in the world, no matter what career you chose. It’s also a good bet that you haven’t finalized your rookie of the year speech while also trying to be named player of the year in two years on two different continents.
You were almost certainly not 96 hours away from a potential $2 million payday.
But more than anything, at 19, you probably weren’t a poised, courteous professional in front of the camera, answering questions from a room full of strangers, in a second language.
In other words, you and me, and everyone we knew, weren’t Athaya Theticol.
The smiling Thai teen who retained the Louise Saggs title for Rolex Player of the Year last week came to the media center at Tiberon Golf Club for another pre-tournament press conference as Keith Urban hit the E chord on a Gibson no more than 40 yards out. The country star is playing a special concert on his CME Group Tour on Wednesday night, and his sound check started when Thitikul took in a question. Even a Grammy Award-winning artist would have been touched by Thetkul’s calmness.
“All the things that happened this year are really crazy to me,” said the girl they call Gino with another big smile. “I got to No. 1. World. To be able to take two wins here and have Rolex Rookie of the Year is really crazy. It’s really cool.
“At the same time, I think it’s because all the people around me are a very good support (mechanism) and have gotten me to this moment. The hard work also helped in the beginning of the year. But, yeah, it’s really nice, and it really means the world.” For me and my team.”
Like most charismatic young men, she is unaware of her dynamism. Nor does she seem to realize that not everyone is such a deep thinker.
“All players want to be No. 1 in the world,” she said. “But at the same time, the news that I’m going to be No. 1, it’s crazy and it means a lot. I was very proud of myself, but after some time, like a day or two of being No. 1, it’s still the same, I guess. You know, you have No. 1 under your belt, but I keep thinking I’m the same. I’m the same person who has to improve a lot. I’m only 19, the same person without a lot of experience, because this is my first year. Still young. There’s still a long way to go. So, I guess No. 1 makes me more humble. Like, oh my gosh, I know (I’m No. 1), but, you guys, I’m no good.”
Yes, it really is, and not just inside the ropes.
When asked how she got her surname Jeeno, Thitikul joked, “All Thais have surnames because their names are too long to say.” She then explains that her surname was originally Jeen (pronounced jean) because in Thai it denotes Chinese and that her father has some Chinese in his ancestry. Then my coach called me Gino, and I thought, ‘Oh, that looks good. “I just took it from that time,” she said.
Gino won the Women’s European Tour Player of the Year title a year ago. With her win in Naples, she became the third player in LPGA Tour history to win Rookie of the Year and Player of the Year awards in the same season. However, it remains solid and realistic.
“My goal on the LPGA Tour, the number one 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. You see, some people have been here for a while, but they haven’t (won) once. I know it’s really hard. You get to play against the best players in the world every week.” Then you don’t know who’s coming next because everyone can score really low every single day.
“I’ve had a really great year. I would say this week is like an extra week for everyone – four more rounds to finish off our season. It’s a bonus week for me too. I just want to have fun and have fun because, like, I really need to rest.”
She laughed and everyone laughed with her. She thanked everyone, waved, and walked off the stage.
It was then that Urban gave another lick at his soundcheck, unaware that the biggest star around had just moved away to prepare for her appearance.