There were multiple elements to the emotional victory of Ariya Jutanugarn at the LPGA’s Honda Thailand event, chief among them being she was the first Thai player to capture the title.
Ask any international player the importance of a win on home soil and they will almost inevitably rank the achievement just behind winning one of the game’s majors.
But while it garnered only one line from the player herself – and not a single question from reporters – for Jutanugarn, the victory must have been beyond special given what happened in 2013.
Eight years ago, as a 17-year-old hometown hero, Jutanugarn stood on the edge of history at Siam County Club.
“The future certainly looks bright for Thai golf given the emerging talent but for the moment, the glory belongs to the 25-year-old ‘veteran’ Jutanugarn.” – Rod Morri.
A rookie professional shouldering huge expectations both at home and abroad, Jutanugarn arrived at the 72nd hole two shots ahead of Inbee Park who was already in the clubhouse.
Having aced the par-3 12th earlier in the day to regain the lead from Park, it seemed like destiny awaited the long hitting teenager.
A par-5 that was within reach and a two-shot cushion adds up to comfortable victory for most who reach the top level of play but somehow, Jutanugarn conspired to make a triple bogey and finish runner-up.
While stoic in the immediate aftermath and a major winner and World No.1 just four years later, it must have been a devastating blow.
At the time, Jutanugarn was being touted as one of the game’s most promising players and the collapse must have been humiliating, to say the least.
But as difficult as that moment was the joy of victory this week should be even more powerful given the circumstances.
As the first Thai player to win a major, Jutanugarn holds a special place in the game in her homeland.
So to see two young local players in the mix all day Sunday – surely knowing she has played a role in helping inspire both – should give her an enormous sense of pride.
Patty Tavatanakit announced herself to the world in the boldest way possible with her win at the ANA Inspiration earlier this year and after leading all week looked on track to take the title.
Gutsy birdies at the last two holes weren’t ultimately enough to overcome an earlier double bogey though on balance, she should be pleased enough with her play.
But the more impressive performance, in a way, came from runner-up Atthaya Thitikul.
Keen followers of the game will be familiar with her name as a two-time winner on the Ladies European Tour as a teenage amateur but this week’s performance might act as her international coming out party.
Having had the pleasure of seeing her play first-hand at the Women’s NSW Open in Dubbo a little over a year ago, I can attest to her extraordinary talent.
On a narrow and difficult golf course she posted a 10-under total which, to the outsider looking in, could not possibly have been a single shot higher though could easily have been several shots better.
There are many well respected analysts who believe Thitikul is a world top-10 player in waiting and her showing this past week suggests they might be right.
The future certainly looks bright for Thai golf given the emerging talent but for the moment, the glory belongs to the 25-year-old ‘veteran’ Jutanugarn.
And under the circumstances, that’s exactly as it should be.
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