Thursday night, LPGA superstars In Gee Chun and Atthaya Thitikul put down their clubs and put on their heels to receive their respective awards at the 2022 Rolex LPGA Award Banquet.
Chun was the first to hoist a trophy at the banquet, taking home the Founder’s Award, the only award decided by player votes. The winner of the Founder’s Award is the player that, in the eyes of her peers, exemplifies the spirit, ideals and values of the LPGA.
“To receive any award as a player on the LPGA is special, but this one is even more special because it is from the LPGA players, who I have great respect and admiration for,” Chun said in her acceptance speech.
The three-time major champion is certainly deserving of the honor, always ready with a smile for her fellow players and active in philanthropy. Chun founded the In Gee Chun Lancaster Country Club Educational Foundation after her first major win at the U.S. Women’s Open in 2015, making annual contributions to provide scholarships to students.
“I think I also hold a sense of responsibility as a professional golfer,” Chun said. “At some point, I thought to myself that my words and actions have an influence on those around me, so I wanted to share good energy and positive thoughts with as many people as I could. I want to continue to share good energy with more people in this moment and in the future.”
A long dinner and many more awards followed Chun. Elizabeth Nagel received the Heather Farr Perseverance Award and Carol Preisinger took home the Ellen Griffin Rolex Award, which honors the best teachers in the game. The CEO of the Volunteers of America Mike King received the Commissioner’s Award for his longstanding dedication to the LPGA. All 11 of this year’s Rolex First-Time Winners were acknowledged and then Minjee Lee took the stage with Annika Sorenstam to accept the Rolex ANNIKA Major Award.
Finally, Thitikul took the stage for the banquet’s conclusion, seeing her trophy for the Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year for the first time after clinching the award ahead of the Pelican Women’s Championship.
“It’s such a huge honor to receive the Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year award,” Thitikul said as she took the stage. “I am just a little girl who always had a dream to play and compete on the LPGA Tour, and to be here on this stage in front of you guys is more than a dream come true.”
There’s no doubt that Thitikul is the rookie of the year. The 19-year-old from Thailand has two wins in her rookie season – her first coming at the JTBC Classic presented by Barbasol, just her fifth start on tour. Thitkul has carded top 10 finishes in her last six starts, including her second win at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship presented by P&G, boosting her to No. 1 in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings. She is just the second player from Thailand to reach world No. 1, a title she held for two weeks. She is now the second consecutive player from Thailand to take the rookie of the year title after Patty Tavatanakit.
Ever the humble, smiling winner, Thitikul used her acceptance speech to thank all those who helped her so far in her short but wildly successful career. Though emotional, Thitikul spoke with poise and grace beyond her years.
“I am thankful for my managers and my caddies who are here with me all these years with one suitcase, no house here in the States,” Thitikul said with a laugh. “Thank you for taking really good care of me this year. Back in Thailand, thank you to my coach Chris for always taking my calls at midnight and helping me find the best in me. My family back home, thank you for your love and support. Thank you for letting me chase my dreams and for always being by my side. Thank you to my friends and sponsors back home in Thailand for always supporting me. Your continuous support really means a lot to me.
“Without you guys, without anyone, I couldn’t be here. Thank you all for the support and the love that you have given.”
Only the most prestigious awards remained untouched, the Vare Trophy and the Rolex Player of the Year. Too close to call, these awards will be decided when the final putt drops on Sunday. Lydia Ko leads the Vare Trophy by a wide margin, shooting a 69.049 average this season. Thitikul is her closest competitor but would need to best Ko by 35 shots this weekend. Ko also leads the race for player of the year but by a much thinner margin, just one point ahead of Lee.