Thailand’s Ariya Jutanugarn was on the fast track to stardom last year when she stumbled and fell coming off a tee box and tore the labrum in her right shoulder at the Wegmans LPGA Championship.
She was rocketing up the world rankings as a 17-year-old phenom and looking as if she were going to rival Lydia Ko and Lexi Thompson as the top teen in the game.
Sixteen months after surgery to repair the tear, Jutanugarn still hasn’t fully recovered.
“I still have pain in my shoulder,” Jutanugarn told GolfChannel.com.
Still, Jutanugarn will tee it up Wednesday at the start of LPGA Q-School in a quest to join her sister, Moriya, as a tour member next season. Moriya was the LPGA’s Rookie of the Year in 2013.
For Ariya, this week is another big step in her bid to return to form.
“I’m playing with what I’ve got,” Ariya said. “I can’t swing the way I did before I got hurt without feeling pain. I can’t make that shallow move down, so I have to swing steeper. I can’t hit a draw. I’m hitting a fade.”
Jutanugarn, who just turned 19, will join England’s Charley Hull, Australian teen phenom Minjee Lee, Northern Ireland’s Stephanie Meadow, Cheyenne Woods, Alison Lee, Madison Pressel and South Korea’s Ha Na Jang and Sei Young Kim in a strong field of Q-School hopefuls. Jang was the Korean LPGA Tour’s leading money winner last year and is the highest ranked player in the Q-School field at No. 25 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings. Four-time LPGA winner Lorie Kane, 2005 U.S. Women’s Open champion Birdie Kim and LPGA winner Silvia Cavalleri are also in the field of 154 players at LPGA International in Daytona Beach, Fla. The top 20 at Sunday’s finish will earn full-time status with the next 25 earning conditional status.
“Ariya is confident she’ll make it,” said Andrew Park, Jutanugarn’s swing coach. “She has a good attitude, and she doesn’t seem frustrated with all that’s happened. She doesn’t show it.”
Jutanugarn won a Ladies European Tour event as a 17-year-old rookie early last year 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, Jutanugarn didn’t finish worse than a tie for fourth. She was No. 15 in the world when she got hurt but went eight months without playing a tournament while recovering. She slipped to No. 82 in the world while playing the LET this year.
“Being out eight months, not playing, you lose some confidence,” Jutanugarn said.
One of the longest players in the women’s game, Jutanugarn says she has lost a good 10 yards off her drives. She says her doctors have assured her that despite lingering pain, she doesn’t require further surgery, but she needs to step up therapy and strength training.
When Park began working with Ariya in January, she told him she was no longer doing rehab and therapy. Park encouraged her to get back at it.
“That required a change of plans,” Park said. “Getting back to that shallow swing was going to be a bit of a challenge, because when she tried to tuck her elbows, it hurt her. You could see she was compensating. I told her that’s OK, some great players have played with steep swings, like Jack Nicklaus.”
Park said Jutanugarn will be re-evaluated by her doctors after Q-School. She’s hoping she will have an LPGA card when she sees them again.