The Jutanugarn sisters are moving in different directions this summer.
While Moriya’s upward climb continues at the Evian Championship in her bid to make her first LPGA title a major, Ariya missed another cut.
With a 3-under-par 68 Saturday, Moriya took sole possession of the lead. At 9 under overall, she is one shot ahead of Ayako Uehara (66) and two ahead of Katherine Kirk (69).
In-Kyung Kim (69) sits just three shots back, in position to win back-to-back majors.
Lydia Ko (68) and Sung Hyun Park (73) are also three back. Ko is looking to win her third major and end a 13-month winless spell. Park, the first-round leader, is looking to win back-to-back starts and add to the U.S. Women’s Open title she won two months ago.
Ariya, on the other hand, continues to struggle to find the form that helped her ascend to Rolex world No. 1 after winning the Manulife Classic in June. She has slipped to No. 4 and looks to drop again after missing the cut at Evian. She followed up a 77 in the first round with a 74 on Saturday.
This marks the seventh time Ariya has missed a cut or withdrawn in her last eight starts.
After tying for eighth at the ANA Inspiration in the spring, she has now missed the cut in the last four majors.
Moriya, 23, who is two years older than Ariya, has been pointing to something big this year. She has been knocking at the door to her first victory for some time now.
“That's actually what I'm trying to do, just keep knocking on the door,” Moriya said. “And when it's time, it's time.”
If Moriya wins, the Jutanugarns will become the first sisters in history to win majors. Ariya won the Ricoh Women’s British Open last year.
Moriya has been a regular contender all summer. She tied for second at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship, tied for third at the Cambia Portland Classic and tied for fourth at the Meijer Classic. She has eight top-10 finishes this year, including her last two starts.
No LPGA player has made more birdies this season than Moriya (363). Her velvet putting stroke is considered one of the best on tour. She’s fifth in putts per greens in regulation for the year. She’s eighth in scoring (69.75). Also, she has gotten longer under swing coach Gary Gilchrist, improving her average driving distance by 12 yards this season, to 256.8 yards per drive. That’s taken her from 144th in driving distance last year to 52nd this year.
“Mo has gotten sneaky long,” said Lynn Marriott, who teams with Pia Nilsson as the Jutanugarn sisters’ Vision 54 performance coaches.
Gilchrist says a club-throwing drill that Marriott and Nilsson taught Moriya is a large factor in her swinging more freely. Moriya uses old clubs and flings them down the practice range as she follows through while hitting shots in the drill.
“Sometimes, we could see Moriya swinging defensively, where there was no energy to the finish in her swing,” Nilsson said. “Gary was seeing it, too. We wanted her to feel what it means to be free with her swing. So, we told her to let go of the club and let it fly. There’s instant feedback. She could see how she was holding off or hold on.”
It’s a drill that Marriott and Nilsson learned from Fred Shoemaker.
Really, though, the Vision 54 coaches say there isn’t one change that has led to Moriya’s improvements.
“Moriya is a little like Annika Sorenstam in that she just keeps adding skills, keeps improving, whether it’s technical, physical or human skills, she just keeps adding to them,” said Nilsson, who coached Sorenstam. “There are a lot of things she has been building on since last year.”
Though Moriya proved herself coming out of Thailand, tying for medalist honors at LPGA Q-School in 2012 and winning LPGA Rolex Rookie of the Year honors in ’13, she has played in her younger sister’s shadow.
Still, with Ariya winning five times last year and claiming Rolex Player of the Year honors, Moriya was her biggest cheerleader.
“Ariya is proud of what Moriya is doing now,” Nilsson said. “They’ve been able to figure out how to separate who they are as family, as sisters, and who they are as players. It’s a beautiful thing.”
It’s been a challenging summer for Ariya. She has posted scores of 76 or worse in eight of her last 15 rounds.
While Ariya has acknowledged her surgically repaired right shoulder has bothered her at times this year, she didn’t appear to favor the shoulder missing the cut this week.
“Ariya is always going to have trouble with that shoulder,” Marriott said. “It’s going to kind of come and go, but the main thing is that she gets comfortable with her game right now. She’s working through things.”
Even gearing down without her driver, Ariya has been struggling to hit fairways. She hit just 14 of 26 fairways through the first two rounds of Evian.
Marriott and Nilsson acknowledge the sisters are different personalities, and that affects how they react to the game’s challenges.
“Ariya’s highs are really high and her lows are really low,” Marriott said. “Mo is so different, not too high and not too low, not as extreme, but we really feel Ariya is going to come out of this just fine.”
Ariya has been through worse swoons than this. Once a teen phenom, she endured some epic failure struggling to come back from surgery in 2013 to repair a torn labrum in her right shoulder. She missed 10 cuts in a row in the middle of the 2015 season, the year before she was the LPGA’s Player of the Year.
“We have good communication,” Nilsson said. “Every player, no matter who you are, there are times when things go really well, times when nothing happens and times when you have some kind of dip in performance. It happens with every player, but when you are a top, top player, it gets more attention.”
Ariya’s rebound from previous struggles gives her perspective.
“We look at it through the long-term lens of mastery,” Marriott said. “Some players panic, or go into fix-it mode, and start changing a lot of things. Ariya isn’t doing that. She’s dealing with it, and we’re helping her deal with it. We see adversity as an opportunity to learn skills you’ll need in the future.”