Jutanugarn takes medalist honors at U.S. Girls' Junior
DALY CITY, Calif. – Ariya Jutanugarn feels as at home as possible in California. Here, the 16-year-old Thailand native explains, the Asian food is plentiful and the weather is beautiful. This line is uttered just off the side of the practice putting green, where Jutanugarn stood Tuesday evening sipping hot chocolate through a straw as temperatures dropped and the last players finished stroke-play qualifying for the U.S. Girls’ Junior.
Jutanugarn had returned to Lake Merced Golf Club late in the evening to spend a few more minutes on the practice green. She had sealed medalist honors hours before. In the first group off No. 1 tee on Tuesday morning, Jutanugarn returned a second consecutive round of 71 on a hilly track with fast greens. She was the only player to shoot under par in Round 1, when a typical San Francisco drizzle plagued the field.
“I always feel like I like stroke play,” said Jutanugarn, whose 2-under 142 total left her three shots ahead of runner-up Lydia Ko.
From here, however, the score wipes back to zero. Jutanugarn, Golfweek's top-ranked junior, treats match-play brackets like a fresh slate. Come Wednesday morning, she said, “everybody is tied.” Regardless, Jutanugarn knows what the No. 1 seeding feels like in a U.S. Golf Association event. She was the stroke-play medalist at last year's U.S. Girls' Junior and also the 2010 U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links.
Peruse Jutanugarn’s resume, and the stroke-play accolades are considerably higher in number. Before the Girls’ Junior, she won three of the past four events she entered, which included two AJGA invitationals. She finished 18 shots ahead of older sister Moriya at the Rolex Girls’ Junior and set a scoring record in the process. Of those events, only one was match play; the Women’s Western Amateur. She beat Moriya in the final match to win that title.
Moriya is conspicuously absent at Lake Merced this week. Technically, she still qualifies as a junior because she’s a week shy of her 18th birthday, but Moriya proclaimed herself ready for a new challenge during the U.S. Women’s Open earlier this month. It’s why she’s across the country at the North & South Women’s Amateur in Pinehurst, N.C. She trails first-round leader Jaye Marie Green by one shot.
This isn’t the first time the sisters have played different competition schedules, but Ariya still has noticed Moriya’s absence this week. It’s possible it could happen more frequently over the next year. Moriya will be eligible for LPGA Q-School in the fall, while Ariya must be waved in by the LPGA because she won’t meet the age requirement (players must be 18 years old by Jan. 1). Turning professional is what both players want to do.
“If she be a pro and I be amateur, that’s fine,” Ariya said of that possibility.
Moriya was on Ariya’s bag for the entirety of last year’s Girls’ Junior. Her skill in reading greens came in handy, but this week Ariya has a local looper on the bag. Ariya returned the favor for Moriya at the Women’s Open.
Close-knit as the Jutanugarn sisters might be, neither is glued to her phone texting the other this week. Sometimes it’s good to have a little space.