Jutanugarn looks to extend cut streak, gain experience

Moriya Jutanugarn of Thailand on the range on Tuesday of LPGA Q-School at LPGA International.

Moriya Jutanugarn of Thailand on the range on Tuesday of LPGA Q-School at LPGA International.

— RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – In one category at least, Moriya Jutanugarn’s young professional career is perfect. Jutanugarn, 18, hasn’t missed a cut in five LPGA events played so far this year. She doesn’t just lead her rookie class in earnings, she’s banked more than three times the amount of any other rookie. Jutanugarn just says the hard part is over.

“When you play junior golf, the Q-School is what’s so hard. When I passed that step so fast, it felt like . . . real,” Jutanugarn said, struggling to find a word to express the feeling. She was co-medalist at LPGA Q-School in the fall.

At 5 feet 2 inches, Jutanugarn still is among the most physically unimposing players in the field. In other ways, she’s blossoming before our eyes. She’s one of only four rookies in the Kraft Nabisco field.

Jutanugarn played her first LPGA pro-am when the season made its domestic debut at the RR Donnelley Founders Cup. The next week, at the Kia Classic, Jutanugarn shadowed 31-time LPGA winner Juli Inkster during the pro-am.

“She’s a good big sister,” Jutanugarn said of Inkster.

The best piece of advice Jutanugarn took away? Learn how to make your partners laugh and smile, and then have fun from there.

In order to get in her necessary reps, Jutanugarn arrived at Mission Hills early Tuesday morning to spend two hours on the putting green. She’s been working intensely with California-based swing coach Craig Chapman since the Kia Classic. If Jutanugarn three-putts too many times, she can expect a phone call at the end of the day from Chapman. This week, he has her working on putting speed.

In addition to Chapman, caddie Eric Bajas has provided some familiarity for Jutanugarn as she gets her career off the ground. Bajas was on the bag when Jutanugarn was co-medalist at LPGA Q-School in December. He agreed to start the year with Jutanugarn, but will return to PGA Tour player Bryce Molder’s bag from here. Bajas, with his warm smile, says he may be back on Jutanugarn’s bag from time to time this year.

Jutanugarn played the Kraft as an amateur on a sponsor exemption last year but missed the cut. Her younger sister Ariya, 17 and a Ladies European Tour member, was the low amateur for a second year in a row. Ariya won last week’s Lalla Meryem Cup on the LET, and Moriya said her little sister will arrive in the States on Monday.

Moriya already talks about what it will be like to have Ariya on the LPGA Tour with her next year. After Ariya’s close call at the Honda LPGA Thailand and her recent LET victory, it seems a given she will find her way here. In the meantime, the two are headed to Hawaii later this month for the LPGA LOTTE Championship. Ariya will try to Monday qualify.

As for the checks that keep rolling in, Moriya says she hasn’t splurged on anything yet. She’s saving for the bigger picture.

“I have my goal. Maybe next year when Ariya is (on the LPGA). Maybe we have to decide to move here.”

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