WOBURN, England – Ariya Jutanugarn learned a lot from her late collapse at the ANA Inspiration almost four months ago.
You can see it in that practiced little smile she flashes stepping over every shot now.
Jutanugarn is hoping to turn those hard lessons learned losing to Lydia Ko at Mission Hills into a major championship breakthrough this week at the Ricoh Women’s British Open.
With a 7-under-par 65 Thursday, Jutanugarn moved into early contention at Woburn Golf Club, where she sits three shots behind the leader, Mirim Lee.
“One time in my life, I really want a major,” Jutanugarn said after her bogey-free round Thursday.
Jutanugarn, 20, had a major championship within her grasp at the ANA in April before losing a two-shot lead with three holes to go. After breaking down in tears in the clubhouse, she told her sister, Mo, that she was going to do everything she could to learn how to close out leads.
That’s where the pre-shot smile comes from.
Nilsson and Marriott broke down what they saw in the final round at Mission Hills, showing Jutanugarn that she was speeding up under pressure, which was leading to more tension and tightness in her body.
“We tried nine different things [to use as a trigger], to help her step into the present, to keep from looking ahead, because she said she would get anxious about hitting a shot,” Nilsson said.
They tried different waggles and movements like that, but when they suggested a smile, Jutanugarn seized on it.
“It was about getting her to really look forward to hitting the shot, about feeling a passion for hitting the shot,” Nilsson said.
The Thai star used that smile like a mental waggle, rebounding from the ANA loss to win the Yokohama Tire Classic, Kingsmill Championship and Volvik Championship in consecutive starts. She also used it to give herself a shot at winning the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, where she finished third, missing out on a playoff by a shot.
That little smile embodies a lot of the mental work Jutanugarn did coming back from the ANA loss.
“May is so cute, her big smile is obvious,” Nilsson said. “Really, though, it’s not about the smile. It’s about how she feels inside that’s important. When we tried the smile, she said, `That’s me.’”
Jutanugarn also went to work with her swing coach, Gary Gilchrist. Her entire team is here this week. Like Nilsson and Marriott, Gilchrist walked with Jutanugarn on Thursday. The biggest difference he sees in Jutanugarn is the confidence a good plan is giving her.
“She has the game to win every single week,” Gilchrist said. “And now there’s a lot less doubt.
“If she would have won before the ANA, she would have won the ANA.”
Jutanugarn has a new member of her team, with Pete Godfrey on her bag as caddie for a third consecutive event.
There was no driver in Jutanugarn’s bag again Thursday. She navigated her way around Woburn using 3-wood and 2-iron off tees, carving shots around all the doglegs here. She may be the only other LPGA pro beside Laura Davies who carries a 2-iron. It’s become a valuable tool. She routinely rips it past other player’s drivers.
“I love this course,” Jutganugarn said. “It really feeds my game.
“I don’t have to hit my driver. The course is not too long [6,463 yards]. I really feel comfortable with my 2-iron. I feel like I can hit it hard and do whatever I want to do with it. I can hit a draw, I can hit a fade.”
Jutanugarn had every facet of her game working at Woburn. She hit 12 of 14 fairways, was 13th in driving distance (254 yards per drive), hit 16 greens in regulation and took just 25 putts.
“I got a lot more confident after ANA and KPMG,” she said. “Now, I feel really confident.”