A. Jutanugarn puts on a happy face

By Randall MellJuly 28, 2016, 6:16 pm

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.

It’s a pre-shot routine trigger she learned from her Vision 54 coaches, Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott.

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.

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“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.”

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Punch shot: Predictions for the 147th Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 4:00 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In advance of the 147th Open Championship, GolfChannel.com writers sound off on burning questions as players ready for a fast and firm test at Carnoustie. Here’s what our writers think about myriad topics:

The Monday morning headline will be …

REX HOGGARD: “Survival.” This one is easy. It always is at Carnoustie, which is widely considered The Open’s most demanding major championship test. Monday’s headline will be that the champion - pick a champion, any one will do - “survived” another dramatic Open. You don’t dominate Carnoustie; you endure.

RYAN LAVNER: “DJ Bashes Way to Victory at Carnoustie.” If somehow a two-win season could be disappointing, it has been for DJ. He’s first in scoring average, birdie average, par-4 scoring, par-5 scoring, strokes gained: tee to green and proximity from the rough. Those last two stats are the most important, especially here at Carnoustie, with these dry conditions. The game’s preeminent long-and-straight driver, there’s a better-than-decent chance he rolls.

MERCER BAGGS: “Rahm Tough: Spaniard charges to Open victory.” Jon Rahm will claim him maiden major title this week by powering his way through the winds and fescue at Carnoustie.

JAY COFFIN: “Thomas wins second major, ascends to world No. 1 again.” Shortly after The Open last year, Thomas rolled through the end of the PGA Tour season. This is the time of year he likes best. Despite a poor Open record the last two years, he’s not remotely concerned. He’s a tad miffed he didn’t win in France two weeks ago and comes to Carnoustie refreshed, with a gameplan, and ready to pounce.

Who or what will be the biggest surprise?

HOGGARD: Style of play. Given Carnoustie’s reputation as a brute, the surprise will be how the champion arrives at his lofty perch. Unlike previous editions at Carnoustie, this week’s dry conditions will promote more aggressive play off the tee and the winner will defy the norm and power his way to victory.

LAVNER: Tiger Woods. This is Woods’ best chance to win a major this year, and here’s believing he contends. His greatest strengths are his iron game and scrambling, and both aspects will be tested to the extreme at Carnoustie, helping separate him from some of the pretenders. With even a little cooperation from his putter, he should be in the mix.

BAGGS: Padraig Harrington. He had a good opening round last week at the Scottish Open and has some good vibes being the 2007 Open champion at Carnoustie. He won’t contend for four rounds, but a few days in the mix would be a nice surprise.

COFFIN: Alex Noren. Perhaps someone ranked 11th in the world shouldn’t be a surprise, but with so much focus on some of the bigger, household names, don’t be surprised when Noren is in contention on Sunday. He hasn’t finished worse than 25th since early May and won two weeks ago in France. He also tied for sixth place last year at Royal Birkdale.

Who or what will be the biggest disappointment?

HOGGARD: Jordan Spieth. Although he was brilliant on his way to victory last year at Royal Birkdale, Spieth is not the same player for this week’s championship, the byproduct of a balky putter that has eroded his confidence. Spieth said giving back the claret jug this week was hard, but his finish will be even tougher.

LAVNER: Weather. This might sound a little sadistic, but one of the unique joys of covering this tournament is to watch the best in the world battle conditions they face only once a year – the bone-chilling cold, the sideways rain, the howling wind. It doesn’t appear as though that’ll happen this year. With only a few hours of light rain expected, and no crazy winds in the forecast, the biggest challenge for these stars will be judging the bounces on the hard, baked-out turf.

BAGGS: Jordan Spieth. The defending champion is still trying to find his winning form and Carnoustie doesn’t seem the place to do that. As much as he says he loves playing in strong winds, there should be enough danger around here to frustrate Spieth into a missed cut.

COFFIN: Rory McIlroy. I hope I’m wrong on this, because the game is better when Rory is in contention at majors. Putting always has been his issue and seemingly always will be. While there isn’t as much of a premium placed on putting this week because of slower greens, he may still have to hit it close. Super close.

What will be the winning score?

HOGGARD: 10 under. The last two Opens played at Carnoustie were won with 7-under and 6-over totals, but this week’s conditions will favor more aggressive play and lower scores. Expect to see plenty of birdies, but the great equalizer will come on Sunday when wind gusts are forecast to reach 25 mph.

LAVNER: 15 under. An Open at Carnoustie has never produced a winner lower than 9 under (Tom Watson in 1975), but never have the conditions been this susceptible to low scores. Sure, the fairway bunkers are still a one-shot penalty, but today’s big hitters can fly them. The thin, wispy rough isn’t much of a deterrent. And the wind isn’t expected to really whip until the final day.

BAGGS: 12 under. We aren’t going to see the same kind of weather we have previously witnessed at Carnoustie, and that’s a shame. Any players who catch relatively benign conditions should be able to go low, as long as they can properly navigate the fairway rollout.

COFFIN: 14 under. Walked into a local golf shop in the town of Carnoustie wearing a Golf Channel logo and the man behind the counter said, “It’ll take 14 under to win this week.” Well, he’s been here for years and seen Carnoustie host The Open twice before. He knows more about it than I do, so I’ll stick with his number.

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Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 3:16 pm

Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.

Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.

This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):

While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:

Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.

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McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.

Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.

“It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.

“Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”

He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.  

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Height of irony: Phil putts in front of 'rules' sign

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 1:36 pm

A picture is worth 1,000 words and potentially two strokes for playing a moving ball under Rule 14-5 but not Rule 1-2.

Phil Mickelson has been having some fun during his Open prep at Carnoustie hitting flop shots over human beings, but the irony of this photo below is too obvious to go over anyone's head.

Mickelson also tried tapping down fescue two weeks ago at The Greenbrier, incurring another two-shot penalty.

And so we're left to wonder about what Phil asked himself back at Shinnecock Hills: "The real question is, ‘What am I going to do next?’”