Jutanugarn sisters reunited, contending in Hawaii

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The Jutanugarn sisters miss each other.

They’re relishing their reunion in Hawaii at the Lotte Championship this week even as they occasionally squabble as sisters like to do.

“I miss her,” says Moriya Jutanugarn, the older sister to Ariya. “When I stay with her, we’re going to fight all the time, but that’s a good thing. Staying with my sister is always a fun time, because, she is a crazy girl. Sometimes, I’m crazy, but she’s worse than me. If you go to her Instagram, you will see some of the crazy things.”

Ariya, 17, seized the first-round lead Wednesday at the Lotte Championship with an 8-under-par 64. She is already a Ladies European Tour winner as a rookie on that tour this season. She made it into the Lotte Championship through Monday qualifying.

Moriya, 18, an LPGA member, shot a 69 Wednesday and is tied for 16th.

Ariya and Moriya, the pride of Thailand, make each other laugh. They also make each other better. That’s why it has been hard competing on separate tours this year.

Ariya won the U.S. Girls’ Junior two years ago and lost to Lydia Ko in the semifinals of the 2012 U.S. Women’s Amateur. Ko went on to win that title. Moriya was runner-up in the 2011 U.S. Women’s Amateur.

With Moriya turning 18 and ready to go pro last year, the Jutanugarns wanted to start their careers together. Ariya petitioned last summer for a waiver of the LPGA’s age restriction to allow her to go to Q-School with Moriya, but Ariya wouldn’t turn 17 until just before the final stage. A player must be 18 to be a tour member. The LPGA denied her petition.

The Jutanugarns showed just how formidable they would be pursuing careers on separate tours late last year. First, Moriya shared medalist honors as co-winner of LPGA Q-School. Two weeks later, Ariya won LET Q-School.

The family has temporarily split this year to manage both careers. Ariya travels the LET with her father, Moriya the LPGA with her mother.

“It was a little bit sad, because normally we aren’t separate,” Moriya said. “At the end of this year, Ariya will try to qualify for the LPGA. If she plays on the LPGA next season, we can travel all together again.”

If Ariya holds on and wins the Lotte Championship this weekend, they might be back together sooner than they planned. If Ariya wins, she is eligible to claim a two-year LPGA membership. However, because she doesn’t turn 18 until Nov. 23, she would again have to petition the LPGA for a waiver of the tour's age restriction.

Ariya nearly won the Honda LPGA Thailand in February, the second event of the season. On the verge of becoming the first Thai to win an LPGA event, Ariya took a two-shot lead to the last hole with her homeland cheering her historic march. She was in tears after collapsing on the final hole with a triple-bogey 7 and losing by a shot to Inbee Park. Ariya fell into Moriya’s arms off the 18th green.

“After she missed that putt and lost in Thailand, everybody thought she would not play good in Singapore the next week,” Moriya said. “But, she kept her game. She was fine. It was a good experience for her.”

Ariya finished fourth in her next start at the LPGA’s HSBC Women’s Champions in Singapore. One month later, Ariya won the LET’s Lalla Meryem Cup in Morocco.

“Everybody was happy,” Moriya said. “I was happy, my parents were happy. It was perfect timing.”

Ariya said winning was a good tonic.

“I have a chance in Honda, but I lose it, so winning one in Morocco, it makes me confident,” Ariya told media after her round Wednesday in Hawaii. “It [makes] me stronger.”

Ariya has earned $215,568 as a non-member of the LPGA in her two starts this year. That would rank her eighth on the LPGA money list this week. If Ariya ends this season with non-member winnings that rank among the top 40 on the money list, she would be eligible for LPGA membership without going to Q-School this winter. However, only money won by non-members in events with cuts count. Ariya’s winnings this year have all come in LPGA events without cuts.

Ariya has an offer to play the LPGA’s Kingsmill Championship on a sponsor exemption next month and may try to Monday qualify for the North Texas Shootout next week. She also is registered for U.S. Women’s Open qualifying.

Moriya is off to a strong start to her LPGA rookie season. She tied for fourth at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open and is 19th on the LPGA money list with $191,488 in earnings.

“When I play with Moriya, she helps me with everything,” Ariya said. “Sometimes, when I play not very good, I tell her what’s wrong, and she try to figure it out and teach me. When I play with her, it’s very happy and fun.”

The Jutanugarns look like they’re going to have a lot of fun together in the coming years.