Jutanugarn eyes one more summer trophy
BARRINGTON, R.I. - Back home in Thailand, Friday's quarterfinals at the U.S. Women's Amateur just so happened to align with Mother's Day. After a summer of sacrifices from her mother, Naruman, only 36 holes stand between Moriya Jutanugarn and a gift that has been a week - and a summer - in the making.
Jutanguarn, 17, defeated Austin Ernst in a long, nearly flawless match Saturday at Rhode Island Country Club to earn a spot in Sunday's final against Danielle Kang. As a player, Jutanugarn never had made it past the third round in a match-play event. As a caddie, however, she looped for younger sister Ariya, 15, at the Girls' Junior as she won the title last month.
2011 U.S. Women's Amateur: Semifinals
Take a look at the semifinal matches at Rhode Island Country Club.
Moriya was instrumental that week in reading greens, and though Ariya is returning the favor this week by taking charge of Moriya's pull cart and helping step off yardages, Moriya still is her own woman on the putting surface.
Unless she needs a little help getting psyched up.
"Last hole, last putt, she not excited but I'm excited," Ariya explained with a big grin as Moriya answered media requests across the 18th green with an equally satisfied look.
Jutanugarn came out of the gate breathing fire on Saturday, going 2 under in the first three holes to build a 3-up advantage on Ernst, the reigning NCAA champion from LSU. After that kind of blitz, Ernst stood on the fourth tee box unsure what kind of game plan to employ; the best option seemed trying to hole out from every fairway for the rest of the day. Such extreme play seemed the only way she had a chance to make up ground on Jutanugarn.
"I told (my caddie), I'm just going to start throwing some darts," Ernst said of her conversation with friend Emily Tubert early in the match.
And so Ernst birdied four of her next six holes, but had cut Jutanugarn's lead by only one at the halfway point of the match. Jutanugarn would win at the 18th hole, but on the back nine, Ernst made sure to test her mettle.
Ernst and Jutanugarn had combined for nine birdies in the first eight holes of the match before both cooled off on a nearly perfect New England morning. Jutanugarn's cooling was more a story of pain tolerance. She has dealt with nagging wrist injuries for much of the summer, which is why she caddied at the U.S. Girls' Junior instead of playing. This week, the right wrist began to flare up.
Jutanugarn's father, Somboon, who watches intently but quietly from the sidelines, explained that Moriya had taken two painkillers before teeing off. But by the time she reached No. 13, a 432-yard par 4 with a hazard running along the left side, the pain was coming back.
Jutanugarn sprayed her driver left, was forced to take a drop and lost the hole. At the par-4 15th, she left her drive on the highway and out of bounds, returning the match to all square for the first time since No. 1 tee.
The match remained even at the 18th tee, until Ernst bogeyed from the rough and sent Jutanugarn to the final match in a USGA championship for the first time in her career. It seems long overdue.
"She hit her irons well all day, and then she made all the putts she needed to," Ernst said. She called her ball-striking the best of the week.
At the end of a long season that began in March with the Kraft Nabisco Championship, Ariya and Moriya look equally fatigued. They've been criss-crossing the U.S. in planes and rental cars, shipping each trophy back to friends in Cerritos, Calif. They'll return to California on Monday to pick up their swag, and fly home to Thailand on Tuesday. Finally. After all, home is the subject that brings the biggest grins to their already smiling faces.
At the onslaught of this odyssey, Ariya was not only the dominant Jutanugarn, but the dominant junior in the country. Since obliterating the field at the Scott Robertson Junior (Ariya included) and finishing as the low amateur at the U.S. Women's Open, Moriya has begun to challenge Ariya for that title. A U.S. Women's Amateur trophy would go a long way toward that argument. Only defending champion Kang stands in the way of that.
"Danielle Kang, she is really good," Moriya said. "My game, I just want to hit everything straight, just perfect."
It may sound like a lofty expectation, but it also shows how much Moriya has matured since March. As her game improves, so does her English and her confidence, to the point where Moriya, surprisingly outgoing, converses easily with anyone who approaches her.
Another surprise? Among the items she'll pick up in California to bring home is an SAT practice book. She couldn't travel with it because the Jutanugarns pack so lightly when on the road. With help from an older half-brother at home, Moriya hopes to study enough to have a shot at college in the U.S. - while playing golf, of course. She has two years of high left before it's time to make that decision, but it's a topic Moriya frequently inserts into conversation.
A roster spot and a college degree are just two more things that should make her mother proud.