PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas – Ariya Jutanugarn took a giant step Sunday in her comeback.
With her tie for second at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic, with an admirable playoff effort, she appears ready to pick up where she left off before a shoulder injury derailed her in the summer of 2013. She was on the fast track to stardom before she stumbled and fell coming off a tee box at the LPGA Championship and tore the labrum in her right shoulder. At 17 back then, she was rocketing up the world rankings, a phenom poised to rival Lydia Ko and Lexi Thompson as the top teen in the game.
With this week’s performance, Jutanugarn, 19, just might be back on that fast track.
“I have a lot more confidence now,” Jutanugarn said. “This week makes me more confident.”
Moriya, Ariya’s older sister, was the LPGA’s Rookie of the Year in 2013. Moriya would like nothing better than to see Ariya win the same award this year. Moriya said confidence is the last piece Ariya needed to put back in place to make a run at doing so.
Ariya needed surgery to repair her torn labrum. She was out for eight months, without playing a tournament, while recuperating.
Even when Ariya returned early last year, she wasn’t the same. She was playing with some pain that forced her to change her swing, to come into the ball more steeply, less shallow than the powerful swing she made before the injury. She changed her shot pattern from a draw to a fade because a fade hurt less to hit.
Ariya was No. 15 in the world when she got hurt. Just 17 back then, she won a Ladies European Tour event and nearly won the LPGA’s Honda Thailand event while playing in her homeland on a sponsor’s exemption. In five LPGA starts through sponsor invites and Monday qualifying in 2013, she didn’t finish worse than a tie for fourth.
Jutanugarn entered this week ranked No. 100 in the world.
“She lost her confidence with the injury,” Moriya said.
Ariya made it through LPGA Q-School in December, earning her tour card with a tie for third. Still, Moriya said Ariya was uncertain about her game heading to the season-opening Coates Golf Championship last week.
“She asked me, `Do you think I’m going to make the cut?’ I’m like, `What are you talking about?’” Moriya said.
Ariya opened strong at Coates, tying for 11th. She said she gained a lot of confidence in that rookie debut at Golden Ocala. She also said her shoulder is finally feeling stronger.
“I’m so happy for her,” Moriya said.
Moriya is 16 months older than Ariya, but they’re like twins in that they’re always together, like best friends. They nearly played together Sunday at Pure Silk, with Moriya in the grouping just in front of Ariya. Moriya tied for 24th.
“After Q-School, I was looking forward to playing tournaments with my sister,” Ariya said.
They would love to climb some leaderboards together, too.