Sister act: Jutanugarns fueled by family bond

By Randall MellJune 7, 2016, 10:58 pm

SAMMAMISH, Wash. – You could call her Ariya Jutanugarn’s guardian angel.

Or her trusted guide.

Or just her big sister.

Moriya Jutanugarn has been all of those through Ariya’s emergence as the newest star in the women’s game.

With Ariya trying to win a fourth consecutive LPGA start at this week’s KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, Moriya won’t be at her side the entire way. Moriya will be among the contingent at Sahalee Country Club trying to stop Ariya’s winning streak, but if she can’t, she’ll be in the wings rooting on Ariya as she always is.

When Ariya broke through to win for the first time at the Yokohama Classic last month, Moriya and their mother, Narumon, were both greenside to hug Ariya in the end.

“When I look up and see them, it makes me stronger,” Ariya said. “I want to make them happy.”

Thailand’s Jutanugarns are a unique team that Ariya is drawing strength from in this bold run. At 21, Moriya is 16 months older than Ariya. Moriya goes by the nickname Mo and Ariya by May.

“The love between Ariya, Moriya and their mother is a beautiful thing,” says Vision 54s Pia Nilsson, who teams with Lynn Marriott as the sisters’ performance coaches.

It’s difficult to bump into Moriya without seeing May.

“They don’t always play practice rounds together, but off the course they are with each other every waking moment,” says Les Luark, Ariya’s caddie.

Mo and May have been a team since the day their father first put golf clubs in their hands. Mo was 7 and May was 5½. They learned to play growing up at Garden Rose Golf’s driving range in Bangkok, where their father owned a pro shop.

“We didn’t have toys growing up,” May said. “We had golf clubs.”

Back then, they were practically the same size with the same look.

“People thought we were twins,” Mo said.

They grew up on that driving range, but don’t get the idea they are products of domineering parents who pushed the game on them and still call the shots, because these parents don’t. Their father, Somboon, is retired and living back in Thailand. He isn’t involved in the details of their golf games anymore. Narumon, who goes by the name “Apple,” travels with her daughters. She’s an attentive mother, but she doesn’t get involved in their golf beyond cheering.

“Mom helps with everything,” Mo says. “She does laundry for us, she packs for us, but she doesn’t really know anything about golf. She’s supportive, and she’s great doing mom stuff, but when it comes to our golf, she lets us make our own decisions, who we want as coaches and things like that.”

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As the big sister, Mo is a confidant and trusted advisor to May.

“I’m proud seeing them help each other on and off the course,” Apple said through a translator. “This isn’t something that just happened. They were taking care of each other long before their AJGA years, giving each other advice on how to get better. I’m so appreciative seeing them as good people, loving each other, pursuing their dreams with determination. They’re gifts from God.”

While Mo says their father originally coached them on that range in Bangkok, she says he was busy in the shop mostly and they got a lot of their instruction from regulars on the range who would come over and offer tips. They didn’t have a real coach until Mo was 13 and May was 11. That’s how old May was when she qualified for the Honda LPGA Thailand, becoming the youngest player ever to qualify for an LPGA event.

While Mo has yet to win on tour, she is an accomplished player in her own right. She was the LPGA’s Rookie of the Year three years ago. She’s poised to qualify with her sister on the Thailand team playing in the UL International Crown.

Mo is the classic older sibling. She’s the planner, organizing and setting agendas. May? She’s the carefree prankster.

“May is always messing with me,” Mo said. “She knows I like things neat, so she enjoys coming in, jumping on my bed and throwing my clothes all over the places after I’ve folded them. Then she’ll say, `Yes, this looks much better.’”

May enjoys being the baby sister.

“My mom and Mo take care of me,” May cracks with a mischievous grin. “I don’t have to do anything.”

Candie Kung and Anna Nordqvist, LPGA veterans, know how important the Jutanugarn sisters are to each other. With May on the back nine trying to close out her first victory at the Yokohama Classic last month, they saw Mo in the clubhouse after Mo finished her round. They could see Mo was a nervous wreck over May’s chances, and that Mo wanted to race out on the course to watch May play the back nine. Kung and Nordqvist talked her out of it. They knew the sister bond might be too strong.

“May’s going to see and feel how nervous you are,” Kung told Mo. “You better stay in here, watch on TV and after she hits her tee shot at the 18th, we’ll go out.”

They did, with Mo so nervous she asked to hold Kung’s hand with May putting for the win.

“They’re so close, they seem like twins,” Kung said. “They’re just good, humble, hard-working people. I’ve been out here for 15 years, and I’ve seen a lot of young girls come out acting like they’re somebody. You don’t see that with Mo and May. Even with May winning three times in a row, you don’t see that. I don’t think you can find anyone out here who doesn’t like them.”

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Ortiz takes Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.

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Randall's Rant: Can we please have some rivalries?

By Randall MellJanuary 16, 2018, 12:00 am

Memo to the golf gods:

If you haven’t finalized the fates of today’s stars for the new year, could we get you to deliver what the game has lacked for so long?

Can we get a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry?

It’s been more than two decades since the sport has been witness to one.

With world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, an early-season showdown would percolate hope that this year might be all about rivalries.

It seems as if the stars are finally aligned to make up for our long drought of rivalries, of the recurring clashes you have so sparingly granted through the game’s history.

We’re blessed in a new era of plenty, with so many young stars blossoming, and with Tiger Woods offering hope he may be poised for a comeback. With Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler among today’s dynamic cast, the possibility these titans will time their runs together on the back nine of Sundays in majors excites.

We haven’t seen a real rivalry since Greg Norman and Nick Faldo sparred in the late '80s and early '90s.

Woods vs. Phil Mickelson didn’t really count. While Lefty will be remembered for carving out a Hall of Fame career in the Tiger era, with 33 victories, 16 of them with Tiger in the field, five of them major championships, we get that Tiger had no rival, not in the most historic sense.

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Phil never reached No. 1, was never named PGA Tour Player of the Year, never won a money title and never dueled with Woods on Sunday on the back nine of a major with the title on the line.  Still, it doesn’t diminish his standing as the best player not named Tiger Woods over the last 20 years. It’s a feat so noteworthy it makes him one of the game’s all-time greats.

We’ve been waiting for an honest-to-goodness rivalry since Faldo and Norman took turns ruling at world No. 1 and dueling in big events, including the back nine of multiple majors. 

In the '70s, we had Nicklaus-Watson. In the '60s, it was Nicklaus-Palmer. In the '40s and '50s, it was Hogan, Snead and Nelson in a triumvirate mix, and in the '20s and '30s we had Hagen and Sarazen.

While dominance is the magic ingredient that can break a sport out of its niche, a dynamic rivalry is the next best elixir.

Dustin Johnson looks capable of dominating today’s game, but there’s so much proven major championship talent on his heels. It’s hard to imagine him consistently fending off all these challengers, but it’s the fending that would captivate us.

Johnson vs. McIlroy would be a fireworks show. So would Johnson vs. Thomas, or Thomas vs. Day or McIlroy vs. Rahm or Fowler vs. Koepka ... or any of those combinations.

Spieth is a wild card that intrigues.

While he’s not a short hitter, he isn’t the power player these other guys are, but his iron game, short game, putter and moxie combine to make him the most compelling challenger of all. His resolve, resilience and resourcefulness in the final round of his British Open victory at Royal Birkdale make him the most interesting amalgam of skill since Lee Trevino.

Woods vs. any of them? Well, if we get that, we promise never to ask for anything more.

So, if that cosmic calendar up there isn’t filled, how about it? How about a year of rivalries to remember?

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McIlroy: 2018 may be my busiest season ever

By Will GrayJanuary 15, 2018, 6:28 pm

With his return to competition just days away, Rory McIlroy believes that the 2018 season may be the most action packed of his pro career.

The 28-year-old has not teed it up since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October, a hiatus he will end at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It will be the start of a busy spring for the Ulsterman, who will also play next week in Dubai before a run of six PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters.

Speaking to the U.K.'s Telegraph, McIlroy confirmed that he will also make a return trip to the British Masters in October and plans to remain busy over the next 12 months.

"I might play more times this year than any before. I played 28 times in 2008 and I'm on track to beat that," McIlroy said. "I could get to 30 (events), depending on where I'm placed in the Race to Dubai. But I'll see."

McIlroy's ambitious plan comes in the wake of a frustrating 2017 campaign, when he injured his ribs in his first start and twice missed chunks of time in an effort to recover. He failed to win a worldwide event and finished the year ranked outside the top 10, both of which had not happened since 2008.

But having had more than three months to get his body and swing in shape, McIlroy is optimistic heading into the first of what he hopes will be eight starts in the 12 weeks before he drives down Magnolia Lane.

"I've worked hard on my short game and I'm probably feeling better with the putter than I ever have," McIlroy said. "I've had a lot of time to concentrate on everything and it all feels very good and a long way down the road."

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What's in the Bag: Sony Open winner Kizzire

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 15, 2018, 6:05 pm

Patton Kizzire earned his second PGA Tour victory by winning a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Take a look inside his bag.

Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees), with Fujikura Atmos Black 6 X shaft

Fairway Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 95 TX shaft

Hybrid: Titleist 913H (19 degrees), with UST Mamiya AXIV Core 100 Hybrid shaft

Irons: Titleist 718 T-MB (4), 718 CB (5-6), 718 MB (7-9), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Wedges: Titleist SM7 prototype (47, 52, 56, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo Tour prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x