Jutanugarn sisters face USGA scrutiny
Saturday, January 14, 2012
ORMOND BEACH, Fla. – Where the letters “SCG” once appeared on sisters Ariya and Moriya Jutanugarn’s clothes and equipment, there now is a Thai flag. The juniors, who recently removed the SCG logo from their gear, have drawn the attention of U.S. Golf Association officials.
When Ariya, 16, and Moriya, 17, made the turn at the South Atlantic Amateur, their parents, father Somboon and mother Narumon, disappeared to the top floor of the clubhouse at Oceanside Country Club to meet with USGA representatives, including John Bodenhamer, senior managing director of rules, competitions and amateur status.
The Jutanugarns travel as a family and play an international schedule. Questions regarding sponsorship and the girls’ amateur status recently have been brought to the USGA’s attention, the family told Golfweek.
“Last summer, you see me wear the SCG, right?” Moriya said. “It’s a team, but many people thought they gave the money for us. I don’t want the problem anymore, so that’s why we just changed.”
Bodenhamer would not comment on the reason for the USGA’s visit. Ariya and Moriya – Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, in the Golfweek Junior Rankings and both among Golfweek’s top 10 amateurs – did not meet with USGA officials, and a translator was obtained for the meeting with Somboon and Narumon, which Somboon had scheduled the previous week. The girls were unaware of the meeting. Ariya shot 71 and leads after 36 holes at 138, and Moriya shot 66 and stands third at 141. Neither girl noticed her parents’ absence until post-round.
Moriya, whose spoken English has vastly improved in the past three years, explained that SCG – which stands for Siam Cement Group, a publicly traded Bangkok construction conglomerate – helps a number of Thai athletes with psychology and fitness training. Ariya and Moriya are the only golfers on the SCG team, which also includes soccer and badminton athletes.
Through Moriya, Somboon explained that this was the reason USGA officials wanted to meet with the family. He said the USGA saw a photo published in Thailand and American media outlets (including YouTube) that showed the family returning to Thailand at the end of the summer, their arms full of trophies, groups of fans nearby and a large poster with congratulations. He said it prompted more questions about possible financial sponsorship from SCG.
“I think it’s clear now,” Somboon said after the meeting.
Moriya and Ariya explained that Somboon and Narumon pay for most of their travel expenses, and that they also receive help from older half-brother Sussmon Jutanukal, who works at an outsourcing call center in Thailand and is one of Somboon’s four older children. Sussmon and Moriya coordinate the family’s travel schedule, which included the Florida Orange Blossom Circuit for the first time this year after Sussmon found the list of tournaments online.
Somboon and Narumon own a small pro shop at Rose Garden Golf Course near their home in Bangkok. It is the only shop they still manage of the four they once owned.
Last year, the family came to the U.S. for the Kraft Nabisco Championship in early April, when Ariya played on a sponsor exemption, and stayed through early August for the U.S. Women’s Amateur, where Moriya was runner-up. Both girls won a handful of U.S. tournaments, notably Ariya’s victory at U.S. Girls’ Junior, with an injured Moriya (wrist) on the bag.
The family came back in October and November to play in the AJGA’s fall invitationals, the Ping Invitational and the Polo Golf Junior Invitational. The Jutanugarns plan to return to Thailand with the hope of obtaining sponsor exemptions to the LPGA Honda Thailand in mid-February. They also want to return to the U.S. in April to again play in the Kraft – both of them this time.
Bodenhamer would not discuss details of the meeting, other than to say it was informative.
“It was just trying to do what we do and just things that have been brought to our attention, not any one thing,” he said. “We’re just trying to get the lay of the land, gather information.”
Bodenhamer said the R&A also is aware of the USGA’s presence at Oceanside Country Club. No decision was reached at the conclusion of Thursday’s meeting, but Bodenhamer called it a “good session.”
“We’re just gathering information, everything that we can just to put a puzzle together,” Bodenhamer said. “That’s why we’re here today.”