There’s a lot that sisters Ariya and Moriya Jutanugarn share: a new dog, coaches and a love of golf. Saturday, they continued to battle for something they can’t share: the U.S. Women’s Open trophy.
The sisters were grouped together during the third round and their names were side-by-side as they took turns leapfrogging each other on the leaderboard. At day’s end it was Moriya who emerged as the steadier of the two when Ariya, a two-time major champion and winner of the U.S. Women’s Open, faded midway through the third round. Moriya (72) is one of four players under par for the championship, at 1 under, and sits three back of Hinako Shibuno. Ariya (74) slid back to 1 over par.
“I'm pretty happy with how I played today, to be honest,” Moriya said about her third round. “I just think like all the majors you have to be patient and just take it when you can.”
After their rounds, Ariya hijacked her sister’s post-round interview. Together they laughed as they needled each other about which sister hit the ball farther: Ariya. And who hit more greens: Moriya.
“She’s been playing so well today, her game is really solid,” Ariya said about her sister. “Every time after I hit my tee shot, I look back, she like 30 [yards] behind, but she hit closer. And then when I hit on the green, she made the putt and I miss the putt. So, it's kind of made me feel like I have to work on a lot of things, I have to improve my game after I play with her.”
It sounds like something dreams are made of – two sisters battling on the weekend for a major title. It’s a vision the Jutanugarn sisters have shared, too. In fact, it’s a scenario which they’ve prepared for with their mental coaches, Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott, of Vision54.
“We have talked about it a lot. Both are excited about the possibility,” Nilsson and Marriott told GolfChannel.com on Saturday while watching their pupils at the U.S. Women’s Open. “It’s like they want each other to play great, but both want to win very badly. It’s a beautiful combo of competition and support.”
For Moriya, the stakes couldn’t be higher.
Moriya, 26, despite joining the Tour ahead of her younger sister has taken longer to find her footing on the LPGA Tour. She broke through for her first win in 2018 at the Hugel-JTBC LA Open, where her sister waited behind the 18th green with tears in her eyes.
In major championships, Moriya has struggled to put together four good rounds. She’s consistent in getting off to a hot start. Thursday, she carded a 68. Since 2013, Moriya is 10 under par in the first round. But she is a cumulative 68 over par in the final three rounds. Nilsson and Marriott say if she can maintain her grit and “stay with her own game plan,” she will be successful on Sunday.
“It's going to be a tough day for everyone tomorrow when the conditions [are] bad,” Moriya said. “I'm just trying to stay patient and maybe play one shot at a time and that's pretty much all I can do.”
Ariya showed glimpses of the world-beater who dominated the women’s game in 2018, in Round 3. But like her career, her round ebbed and flowed and she lost momentum midway through her round and faded from solo second to T-9.
“I tried to be really aggressive today, but I just, like, hit it everywhere, so it's going to be tough,” Ariya said. “[Tomorrow] just focus on my own game and making sure I have good commitment with every shot.”
Ariya hasn’t won since sweeping the season-ending awards on the LPGA Tour in 2018. She has a single top-10 in 2020. The glimmers that Nilsson and Marriott see coming together for the two-time major champion have been the culmination of months of hard work.
“It’s been on its way for a few months now,” Nilsson and Marriott said about Ariya’s progress. “Pieces of the puzzle are getting in place, and she is getting very passionate about playing great.”
A win by either sister would be historic.
Moriya would make history if her name is etched on the Harold S. Semple trophy, as she would join Ariya as the only pair of sisters to win the U.S. Women’s Open. Only two other pairs of sisters have won USGA Championships. A victory by Ariya would elevate her into the golf stratosphere as just 27 players have won three or more majors on the LPGA Tour.
Casper, a Maltese, is a new dog the sisters share. Saturday evening, he’ll provide a bit of levity and an escape from what is on the line in the morning. Regardless of the outcome, the sisters will still have each other but if they’re lucky, also a bit of major history.