Moriya Jutanugarn writes her L.A. story with 1st LPGA victory

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 22: Moriya Jutanugarn of Thailand smiles on the 18th green after her victory in the Hugel-JTBC LA Open at the Wilshire Country Club on April 22, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) Harry How/Getty Images

Moriya Jutanugarn writes her L.A. story with 1st LPGA victory

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Moriya Jutanugarn writes her L.A. story with 1st LPGA victory

LOS ANGELES – Ariya Jutanugarn could hardly watch. She stood off to the side of the 18th green at Wilshire Country Club with her mom and a handful of friends as older sister Moriya tried to hold off a charging Jin Young Ko for her first LPGA victory. When it was over, Ariya embraced her mother in a heave of sobs. The former No. 1 hadn’t been this emotional for any of her own seven victories, not even the Ricoh Women’s British Open.

“It’s amazing,” Ariya said. “I mean, to me, I feel like not only did she reach her goal, but I feel like our family reached our goal.”

The Jutanugarns join Annika and Charlotta Sorenstam as the only set of sisters to win on the LPGA. Moriya, 23, had been runnerup in three previous starts, most recently taking a share of second at the 2018 Honda LPGA Thailand.

“I think they actually crying more than me,” said Moriya, laughing.

The Jutanugarns have made it a point not to compare themselves to each other. The rest of the world does that enough. The pair couldn’t be more different, with Moriya (“Mo”) seeking detailed perfection and Ariya (“May”) taking a more, well, relaxed approach. Ariya is one of the longest players on tour; the smaller Moriya takes a more exacting approach. Mo did all the legwork to find and purchase the family home in Orlando, ordering the furniture and cooking the food. May simply wanted a quiet place to watch her Thai dramas. Their paths to the winner’s circle were decidedly different, too. Ariya won in her 65th career LPGA start; it took Moriya 156 attempts. The latter was not dismayed.

“I think we have our own way,” Moriya said.

The inaugural HUGEL-JTBC L.A. Open packed in the crowds Sunday. With Koreatown only a few blocks away from the city club, Asian fans came out in droves to watch. South Koreans Inbee Park and Ko, a rookie, gave them a thrill to the finish, hitting their approach shots tight on the par-3 18th to finish in a tie for second, two shots back of Moriya, who closed at 12-under 272 thanks to a final-round 68.

Park didn’t come away with the victory, but she did rise to No. 1 in the world for a third time – an incredible feat given that only two years ago many wondered if she’d walk away from the game. It wasn’t the goal coming into the season; she called it “a present.”

Ariya thought the precision-oriented course might suit Moriya well from the moment she saw it. Three birdies in a four-hole stretch on the back side showed Moriya’s mental fortitude. She didn’t let the pressure of a proven champion like Park or a hotshot rookie like Ko get to her. Moriya had clearly learned from previous reps.

Before she teed off Sunday, Moriya spoke with Vision54 gurus Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott. The message: Today will be a good day no matter the outcome, a stepping stone for the future. The chat put her at ease.

Moriya first spotted her sister, who finished tied for 24th, on the 14th green Sunday.

“Good thing she’s not too lazy (to) come out and watch,” she quipped.

There’s no shortage of friendly jabs between the two sisters. But they couldn’t be more supportive of each other while pursuing the same goals and dreams.

“Actually, golf gives me a lot of meaning to my life,” said Moriya, who started this journey at the age of 7. “I just want to keep doing good all the time. I think that’s why I want to wake up every day and do it better and better.” Gwk

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