Ariya Jutanugarn seeks comfort on road to LPGA dominance

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Ariya Jutanugarn seeks comfort on road to LPGA dominance

LPGA Tour

Ariya Jutanugarn seeks comfort on road to LPGA dominance

KILDEER, Ill. – Ariya Jutanugarn’s feelings about what went down at the U.S. Women’s Open at Shoal Creek started to change after she got on the internet. Shots that she wasn’t overly concerned about – even though they wound up in the rough or bunker – were viewed by many as a sign of panic. Of certain collapse. When in fact Jutanugarn felt good about those swings in the moment because she had stuck to the process.

One day after winning her second major title, a confused Jutanugarn started to feel worse about losing that seven-shot lead with nine holes to go. The feeling of euphoria was quickly being replaced.

“I don’t know what’s going on,” she told Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott, the Vision54 coaches who help the most gifted athlete on the LPGA master the intangibles.

The coaches asked Jutanugarn: “What was your experience versus what people are saying about your experience?”

“Once the whole thing is over and you start reading other people’s opinions, or their reflections  upon what you did, but (it’s) not your experience, that can get really weird,” said Marriott. “We just helped her make that distinction.”

Tougher road means bigger rewards

Jutanugarn was, in fact, supremely proud of how she fought to the finish in the four-hole playoff. The VISION54 coaches then helped her see that the more difficult road could prove more beneficial in the long run.

By the time an enlightened Jutanugarn came to her pre-tournament press conference on Tuesday at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, she’d worked out the perfect answer to what she learned at Shoal Creek.

“I feel like if I won by five strokes,” she said, “I’m not going to learn anything. But that week, I learned a lot.”

Jutanugarn was a reluctant participant in Tuesday’s pre-tournament interview at Kemper Lakes Golf Club. The VISION54 coaches prepped her for the presser, helped her to formulate her thoughts. Encouraged her.

English is Jutanugarn’s second language. Big words and long, complicated questions often leave her stumped, causing her to immediately turn to the moderator for help. It’s easy to see how that can embarrass and frustrate a player. Just 22, she is miles ahead of where she once was in the interview room, but more success means more questions. Often the same questions, week-to-week.

Only a handful of players know what it feels like to have media obligations at every tour stop. For some, it’s simply drag. For others, it’s terrifying.

Poised to dominate LPGA

These are the outside the ropes elements that will impact exactly how far Jutanugarn rises in this game. She’s the most obvious candidate to dominate the LPGA.

A nine-time winner on the LPGA, the power player leads the tour in earnings, top 10s, scoring average, eagles, birdies and rounds in the 60s. There are two putting categories on the LPGA and she’s ranked first in both.

At Shoal Creek, Jutanugarn became the 52nd player in LPGA history to own at least two major titles. That she won two different majors – the U.S. Women’s Open and Ricoh Women’s British Open – makes her even more of an elitist.

Nilsson and Marriott showed Jutanugarn a clip of her routine on the 10th tee box, where she launched a 3-wood into the hazard down the right side. It was the shot that sent everything in the wrong direction.

“There’s no mystery here,” Nilsson told her. Jutanugarn had stepped into that shot without feeling ready. The same thing happened on the par-5 17th. On Monday at Kemper Lakes, they watched the clip again.

“So I didn’t feel comfortable to hit 3-wood, and to be honest, when I talked to Pia and Lynn, what we talked about is if I not feel comfortable, I shouldn’t hit 3-wood,” said Jutanugarn. “And second, if I really want to hit 3-wood I should do something else, not just hit the ball because I’m really nervous on that shot.”

Jutanugarn won five times in 2016. In 2017, she missed the cut in four majors and stumbled her way through a first stint at No. 1.

These are stepping stones, areas of growth that are essential to reaching her potential.

What will it take for Jutanugarn to achieve complete domination?

“Internal comfort,” said Nilsson.

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