Jutanugarn holds off Ardina for U.S. Girls' Jr.

Ariya Jutanugarn poses with the Glenna Collett Vare Trophy after defeating Dottie Ardina, 2 and 1, to win the 63rd U.S. Girls' Junior Championship at Olympia Fields Country Club.

Ariya Jutanugarn poses with the Glenna Collett Vare Trophy after defeating Dottie Ardina, 2 and 1, to win the 63rd U.S. Girls' Junior Championship at Olympia Fields Country Club.

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OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. – Players know what to expect when they draw Ariya Jutanugarn in a match-play event, or even see her name in a championships field: Few mistakes, even keel, unfailing accuracy and a vicious short game. Now with a U.S. Golf Association trophy in her possession, Jutanugarn becomes a bit more venerable.

Under cloudy skies and on rain-saturated fairways Saturday at the U.S. Girls’ Junior, Jutanugarn delivered that kind of nearly flawless play. Dottie Ardina might have held a 1-up lead at mid-day, but consider the possibility that it only served to awaken a sleeping Jutanugarn.

The 15-year-old from Thailand returned for the second 18 at Olympia Fields Country Club firing on all cylinders. She stuck her approach shot at No. 1 to 6 feet and made birdie, then struck the flag on the fly at the par-3 second, matching Ardina’s par. Ardina conceded the fourth hole after two chunked chips to send the match in Jutanugarn’s favor, and she went 2 up with a birdie at 13.

“I just think like if I can make this one, and I want to make birdie and make one, I’m going to be dormie,” Ariya said of her biggest advantage of the day.

She would lose the 15th when Ardina made birdie from just a few inches, but Ariya remained 1 up, and Ardina ended her day with a three-putt at No. 17. It was her third of the afternoon round, which is unusual for Ardina. The 17-year-old from the Philippines doesn’t have much length off the tee but makes up ground around the greens.

“I really hit it good today, it’s just my putting,” she said. “I kept putting it short so I made three-putts.”

Temperatures had soared into the high 90s all week, and cloud cover made the final match the coolest of the championship. Still, two rounds of stroke play and four rounds of match play had caught up with both players by Saturday morning. Both slowed their pace considerably as the afternoon wore on and a muggy heat replaced a cool dampness.

Ardina, whose feet were covered in blisters for much of the championship, said beating fatigue was about 20 percent of surviving the day.

“It’s not really hot today compared to the first four days,” Ardina said. “The last two days – kind of easy weather and easy to concentrate and focus.”

This is Ardina’s third loss in the final match of a major match-play event, after making it to the final of the Women’s Western Amateur in 2009 and 2010. She’ll turn 18 in December, so this was her last opportunity to win the Girls’ Junior. With three Callaway Junior World Championship titles, a win at the Women’s Western Junior and a San Diego Junior Masters crown, Ardina’s resume is anything but lacking.

As for Jutanugarn, solid play in every aspect of the game has made her a name worth remembering.

“I know that if she’s in the fairway, she rarely misses the green, and gets it close,” said Gabriella Then, who had beaten Jutanugarn in sudden death at the AJGA’s Rolex Tournament of Champions in June, but lost to her in the quarterfinals here. Aside from the final against Ardina, Jutanugarn called it the hardest match of the week.

Ariya and older sister Moriya have competed in a combined nine USGA championships. Ariya won stroke-play medalist honors once before at the 2010 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links, but other than that has not been past the third round of match play since defeating defending champion Alexis Thompson in 2009. She fell in the quarterfinals that year. Moriya has never been past the Round of 32.

Parents Somboon and Narumon follow each match, but show little emotion but for smiles or an occasional head shakes in frustration. There were many from Somboon during the 36-hole final as Ariya repeatedly left putts barely short, or watched them ring around the hole.

Ariya knows she’s come a long way since that third-round match against Thompson two years ago. She says experiences like the Kraft Nabisco, where she earned low amateur honors, and the U.S. Women’s Open earlier this month have helped her grow as a player.

“For me the (Girls’ Junior) is so big, like a major,” she said. “I’m so proud to win this match.”

It’s hard not to wonder how the championship might have shaken out had Moriya played this week, too. After finishing as the low amateur in the U.S. Women’s Open, Moriya was scheduled to play at Olympia Fields, but had to withdraw because of a nagging injury to her left wrist she thinks was aggravated by hitting out of deep rough at The Broadmoor.

“She tells me if she played this tournament, she’s going to beat me,” Jutanugarn joked at the end of the day.

Ariya wrapped her sister in a bear hug at the completion of Saturday’s round, and was quick to acknowledge her talent when it comes to reading greens.

With a peaking golf game, Moriya, Golfweek’s top-ranked junior, said it was hard being on the sidelines.

“I’m so sad because I can’t play,” she said, looking crestfallen for the first time all week.

Moriya turns 17 on July 28. She will barely be eligible for next year’s Girls’ Junior, to be played at Lake Merced Golf Club in Daly City, Calif., July 16-21. In the shorter term, she hopes the wrist brace can come off for next week’s Junior PGA Championship, and thinks she will be ready for the U.S. Women’s Amateur during the second week of August.

Then it’s back home to Thailand for the Jutanugarn family. Talk of that homecoming lights up both girls’ faces just as much as the site of the newest addition to a rapidly growing Jutanugarn family trophy collection.

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