London, England: Ariya Jutanugarn made history on the Marquess’ Course at Woburn by becoming the first player from Thailand – male or female – to capture a Major Championship.
Just days after being held up as one of the country’s golfing icons at the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s (TAT) annual Golf Travel Mart, the 20-year-old from Bangkok triumphed at the Ricoh Women’s British Open.
With rounds of 65, 69, 66 and 72, ended on a total of 16-under-par 272, three ahead of South Korean Mirim Lee and the 2014 champion Mo Martin from the United States.
Ariya said: “I felt really stressed because I missed a lot of birdie putts today. I just wanted to make one. My goal was to win a Major, so I hope I can inspire some players in Thailand.”
Speaking at the Golf Travel Mart in Pattaya last week, senior TAT officials said the success of players such as Ariya, Thongchai Jaidee and Kiradech Aphibarnrat on the international stage helped to promote Thailand as a golf tourism hotspot.
A phenomenal natural talent, Ariya showed huge promise from an early age. She first won on the Ladies European Tour as a 17-year-old rookie at the 2013 the Lalla Meryem Cup. At that stage, she looked ready to conquer the world, but a freak injury to her right shoulder when she stumbled off a tee box during the LPGA Championship meant that she couldn’t touch a club for eight months.
When she returned, she wasn’t the same player and had to make some major adjustments to her swing.
Now in her fourth year as a pro, she learned from the experience of letting the ANA Inspiration title slip away in April and went on to capture three straight titles on the LPGA in May.
With this win, worth £310,838, she will move up to third in the world rankings and next up is a trip to Rio for the women’s Olympic golf competition from August 17-20.
Ariya, who removed the driver from her bag for the week at Woburn, began the final round with a two-stroke lead over Lee and it looked set to become a procession after she increased her advantage to six strokes in as many holes.
However, things became interesting down the stretch as her lead was cut to a single shot.
Ariya was in cruise control until she dropped a shot after finding sand on the ninth, yet after a tidy front nine of 35, she was still four ahead of Martin, who hit the turn in 34.
Lee, who opened the championship with a record-equalling 62, made an unimpressive start with three bogeys over her first nine but hit back with three straight birdies from the 10th, narrowing the gap to three strokes.
When Ariya airmailed the 13th with her second shot and her chip ran back across the green, another chip and two putts for a double-bogey saw her lead was cut to one. Suddenly back into serious contention, Lee’s drive on the 16th crashed into the trees, but both players escaped with pars.
Ariya then made a cracking birdie putt of around 20 feet, which slid from left to right, at the difficult par-three 17th. A simple par on the last proved enough to secure a comfortable win.
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