Ariya Jutanugarn, a 20-year-old from Thailand, has broken through with victories in her first three LPGA events by keeping it fun. She hopes to do the same this week at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.
SAMMAMISH — It got so bad last year for Ariya Jutanugarn that she was scared to hit the golf ball.
She missed 10 straight cuts, and no longer enjoyed golf.
But then came a big attitude adjustment. She focused on being nice to herself and being happy before each shot.
KPMG Women’s PGA Championship
When: Thursday-Sunday, with practice rounds Wednesday.
Where: Sahalee Country Club, Sammamish.
Purse: $3.5 million (second-highest on LPGA Tour).
Defending champion: Inbee Park.
Parking: Free public parking is at Marymoor Park in Redmond, with a free shuttle to the course.
Tickets: Single-day adult tickets are $10 for practice rounds, $20 for the first two rounds and $25 for the final two rounds. Tickets for the week are $75. Juniors 17 and under are free with a paid adult. Tickets can be purchased on site or at kpmgwomenspgachampionship.com.
And now, the 20-year-old from Thailand seems unstoppable. She’s happy before each shot, and she has plenty of reason to be happy afterward, with victories in her past three events.
“Right now, I am really happy; no matter what the result (of a shot) I’m just very happy with it,” Jutanugarn said Tuesday at Sahalee Country Club, site of this week’s KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.
“The only key I have to do, is I have to be nice to myself, to not complain about every single shot.”
She is the first player in LPGA Tour history to get her first three wins in consecutive events. The all-time Tour record for consecutive wins is five, set by legends Nancy Lopez and Annika Sorenstam.
It’s pretty heady stuff for someone quickly making a name for herself. And speaking of names, her first name has been mispronounced for years in the U.S. For the record, it is AIR-ee-ya (not “aria,” the musical term).
Success seemed a sure thing when Jutanugarn turned pro at the end of 2012, when she was ranked No. 2 in the world amateur rankings, behind only Lydia Ko, now the world’s top player. At age 11, Jutanugarn became the youngest player to qualify for an LPGA event. She won the 2011 U.S. Junior Girls and was named the American Junior Golf Association girls player of the year in 2011 and 2012.
But early in 2013 before an LPGA event, she was chasing her older sister, Moriya — who is also on the LPGA Tour — trying to squirt her with water.
Ariya injured her shoulder and needed surgery. But it was not a lost year.
“I learned how to come back,” said Ariya, who said her sister is her best friend. “I learned how to be a better golfer, and I learned … to play golf under my expectations, not from people around me.”
Ariya Jutanugarn file
Home: Bangkok, Thailand
LPGA victories: 3
World ranking: No. 10
Highlights: Winner of her past three events on the LPGA Tour. … Was the youngest player to qualify for an LPGA event when she got into the 2007 Honda LPGA Thailand event at age 11. …. Was the No. 2 amateur in the world when she turned pro in December 2012. … Won several big amateur events, including the U.S. Junior Girls in 2011.
Jutanugarn earned her way onto the LPGA Tour for 2015. After missing 10 cuts, she rebounded, making 17 of 29 cuts overall and finishing 35th on the money list. Now, she is No. 2 in earnings, No. 10 in the world rankings, the first Thai player to win on the LPGA Tour and on the short list of favorites for this championship, which begins Thursday.
“I think it’s been amazing,” Ko said of Jutanugarn’s run. “We all know she’s a great player, so it’s always good to see her doing so well. And especially with her being such a nice person, too. I love playing with her and spending time with her.”
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Jutanugarn knows getting another win this week won’t be easy. Her first impressions: “The course is too narrow” and “It was so hard for me.”
She said the most important thing for her is to hit fairways. She will not be using a driver this week, willing to sacrifice yards off the tee for accuracy.
But no matter what happens, you can count on Jutanugarn enjoying herself. It’s a formula that has certainly worked.
“I really wanted to win my first tournament this year, and I did,” said Jutanugarn, who celebrates wins with nothing except a nice dinner. “And now I’ve won three tournaments. So I’m very proud and very happy about it.”