Broken-driver drama can’t keep Patty Tavatanakit from contending for second major title at KPMG

JOHNS CREEK, Ga. ­– Patty Tavatanakit, the wire-to-wire winner of the year’s first major, actually prefers to chase. The LPGA rookie finds herself in position to steal the spotlight from Americans Nelly Korda and Lizette Salas, who sit five shots clear of the field at the KPMG Women’s PGA heading into the final round.

“She seems to have the total package,” said Jason Hamilton, a veteran caddie who spent long stints with former No. 1 players Yani Tseng and Lydia Ko and is in his second week working for Tavatanakit.

“I‘ve always thought that was a unicorn that doesn’t exist. You’d never find someone with the long game, the sharp short game and the mental game and everything else.”

Tavatanakit, 21, has the chance to make her first two victories on the LPGA major championships. After all, there are plenty of opportunities for big numbers around Atlanta Athletic Club’s watery Highlands Course, and a five-shot lead vanished on the back nine at a major just two weeks ago.

Tavatanakit’s 7-under 65 on Saturday included four consecutive birdies on Nos. 14-17. She described her short “goldfish memory” as the reason she was able to stay patient and get on a late run.

The day’s momentum took a massive shift when she made a 12-foot comebacker for birdie on the par-5 12th. She wasn’t about to three-putt that hole two days in a row.

Tavatanakit’s week got off to a frustrating and unexpected start when her driver cracked on the ninth hole, and she didn’t realize it until after she hit driver again on the 10th tee. She’d shot 33 on the front nine and was cruising until that point.

Her instructor, former PGA Tour player Grant Waite, said Ping told him it was the first time an LPGA player had ever cracked a driver head.

“She’s got a lot of speed,” said Waite, “and if you hit the ball in the same place all the time there is metal fatigue, and that’s what happens with men’s drivers.”

Most players on the PGA Tour, he said, carry a back-up driver head with them that’s been fully tested to tournaments. That will now be the norm for Tavatanakit, who couldn’t get a replacement sent to her until after she’d tee off Friday morning.

A family friend of boyfriend Andy Zhang volunteered to drive through the night from Windermere, Florida, to Georgia to deliver her old driver before the second round.

By Saturday morning, Tavatanakit had four driver heads to choose from and ultimately made a last-minute switch to the one she used Friday for the third round. It worked out great.

Tavatanakit swings an average of 107 mph in tournaments, which Waite says is well above the 95 average on the LPGA. Her ball speed is 160 mph in events but up to 164 at home.

“The average on the PGA Tour is right at 170,” said Waite, “so she’s not that far back of that. There are some guys playing the PGA Tour whose ball speeds are 163 and 164 … she’s kind of a Bryson DeChambeau kind of feel out there.”

Tavatanakit, an LPGA rookie now competing in her 13th major, believes the reason she rises to the occasion on bigger stages is because she’s addicted to adrenaline.

“I feel like without adrenaline, I’m just like really flat, Do-Nothing, Last-Minute Patty,” she said. “When adrenaline kicks in, I feel like it brings me to a normal stage where I’m competing with full self-conscious and with full focus, nothing too crazy going on like my breathing is like too fast or like I’m getting really fast in my routine and all this stuff.

“I feel like adrenaline kicks in and tournament rounds really bring me back to normal. That’s what I think helped me a lot.”

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