Hungry Ariya Jutanugarn continues to pile up LPGA golf honors

NAPLES, FL - NOVEMBER 18: Ariya Jutanugarn of Thailand poses for a photo with (left to right) the Rolex Player of the Year trophy, Leaders Top 10 Competition Trophy, Vare trophy, Rolex Annika Major award and the Race to the CME Globe trophy after the final round of the LPGA CME Group Tour Championship at Tiburon Golf Club on November 18, 2018 in Naples, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Hungry Ariya Jutanugarn continues to pile up LPGA golf honors

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Hungry Ariya Jutanugarn continues to pile up LPGA golf honors

NAPLES, Fla. – If Ariya Jutanugarn sounds like a broken record, it’s because she’s still learning. The humble Thai player dominated the LPGA this season, winning three times and sweeping every award on the table. Not to mention clinching her second $1 million bonus in three seasons.

But for the first three days of the CME Group Tour Championship, Jutanugarn’s mind was all over the place. She could hardly take the club back on the first tee. She was scared.

The World No. 1 talked daily to Vision54 coaches Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott and on Sunday said: “I don’t want to end up my season doing something, like, not smart.”

So she kept fighting.

“I got the same feeling like last year,” Jutanugarn said. “I was nervous, scared, but I fight with it, and I never let it go.”

She closed with a 66 at the CME, fending off Brooke Henderson for the $1 million bonus and etching her name on the Vare Trophy for the first time thanks to a 69.415 scoring average. That’s in addition to the Rolex Player of the Year, the 2018 Rolex Annika Major Award and money title, which had already been decided coming into the week.

“It’s pretty simple with her,” Jutanugarn’s longtime caddie Les Luark said. “When she decides she wants to win, decides she wants to do something, she normally does. If she’s worried about the outcome or whether or not she can do it, the results aren’t there.

“This week was a struggle. Today she was fantastic.”

Jutanugarn no longer worries about falling into another slump of 10 missed cuts. That’s progress.

Her resilience at this year’s U.S. Women’s Open showed a deeper level of fight. She likely channeled it on Sunday in Naples, whether she knows it not, with so much on the line.

“It feels like her life is more like up and down,” big sister Moriya said. “But every time she comes up, it’s always higher, stronger.”

That’s the thing about Jutanugarn – one gets the feeling there’s still so much room to grow.

This season Jutanugarn tackled her putting with short-game coach Gareth Raflewski and ended the season ranked first in putts per green in regulation and third in overall putting average.

They typically meet up first thing Monday, even if she’s just come off a victory. Seventy percent of their time on the putting green is focused on speed.

“Most people are wasting their time when they’re practicing their putting because they’re not actually working on the right thing,” Raflewski said.

Ariya does not like to be overloaded with information. Raflewski introduces things slowly. Like when she lost some of her shots around the green midseason.

“We drip-feed,” he said.

But here’s the thing: The woman with the best hands on tour is a fast learner.

“You show her once or twice and probably won’t ever have to speak about it again,” Raflewski said.

The same can’t be said for what happens above the shoulders. That takes more time. More repetition.

Take the 72nd hole at the CME, for example. Jutanugarn backed off from her approach into the 18th after thinking: “This one is going to be the last shot of the year, so I should hit it good.

“Then I’m like, ‘I shouldn’t think about that. I should come back and just like have good commitment, and I did.”

There’s a humbleness to Jutanugarn that almost makes it difficult to determine exactly how much she wants out of this game.

She has found her why – to give back to underprivileged children – but now, how much?

When asked what the clean sweep in 2018 meant to her, Jutanugarn said that after what happened in 2016, she never expected more.

“I feel like I achieved like too much already in my life,” she said, “so I never think I can do anything more than that.”

Somewhere along the way though, humble Ariya gave way to hungry Ariya.

Anything less would be a waste. Gwk

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