/LPGA: Emotional Ariya Jutanugarn wins at home in Thailand with closing 63

LPGA: Emotional Ariya Jutanugarn wins at home in Thailand with closing 63

Ariya Jutanugarn dropped to her knees on the practice putting green in a heap of sobs. She’d done it. She’d finally won at home in Thailand. The only thing that could’ve made the moment sweeter was a mob of adoring fans.

Jutanugarn is so beloved in Thailand that they made a movie about her life with big sister Moriya. They even put her face on a Gatorade bottle.

“It feels great to be able to win a tournament again,” said Ariya. “It feels even more great to be able to win in Thailand.”

It had been 1,015 days since Jutanugarn’s last LPGA victory. She’s now the first Thai player to win the Honda LPGA Thailand event, which seems fitting given that she was the first Thai to win on the LPGA and rise to No. 1.

An emotional victory at home for Ariya ?? @jutanugarn | @hondalpgath pic.twitter.com/Z6jeVU2Y3n

— LPGA (@LPGA) May 9, 2021

Jutanugarn fired a 9-under 63 on Sunday to hold off the next wave of Thai stars, finishing at 22 under for the tournament. Remarkably, Thai players finished 1-2-3.

Atthaya Thitikul closed with a 68 to finish one shot back in solo second, while ANA Inspiration winner Patty Tavatanakit finished in a tie for third at 20 under along with three-time Honda Thailand winner Amy Yang, Angel Yin and So Yeon Ryu.

“You know, I feel like I handled everything pretty well,” said Tavatanakit, who entered the final round with a one-shot lead and carded a second consecutive 70. “Just didn’t hit it great today. I grinded back to shoot 2 under par again.

“I mean, I played eight rounds in Asia and I shot under par in all of them. I’m still pretty proud of myself.”

Jutanugarn birdied the first three holes Sunday and made the turn in 30. She closed with a birdie on the par-5 18th, the hole she tripled in 2013 to squander a two-shot lead to eventual winner Inbee Park.

And then she waited.

At 2:47 p.m. local time, with the final group still in the fairway, play was suspended due to inclement weather. Thitikul was in the 18th fairway when played stopped for over an hour. She needed an eagle to win and a birdie to force a playoff.

“You know, I grab my phone and I look at my caddie and I’m like, ‘I shouldn’t turn on my phone, right?’” said Jutanugarn of the delay. “He’s like, ‘No, don’t turn on your phone.’ ”

She instead headed to the range and listened to music with her sister.

When play resumed, Jutanugarn wanted to go to the 18th to watch the finish, but caddie Pete Godfrey advised against it.

“On the putting green, I wanted to watch how they play so bad,” she said. “I want to know because I feel like I have to go playoff anyway, but my caddie stop me from doing that.

“He’s like, ‘You watch or you not watching them play the result not going to change. How about you just putt and practice?’ ”

She followed the advice. When Godfrey came over and told this boss that she’d won, Jutanugarn broke down sobbing.

A two-time major champion who became the youngest player to ever qualify for an LPGA event at age 11 when she played in Thailand, Jutanugarn now owns 11 LPGA titles and has amassed over $9 million in earnings. She has always said she plays to inspire and help the youth in Thailand.

She admitted that lately, it’s been tough to keep up the grind.

Before the round, Jutanugarn spoke with longtime mental coaches Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott. For Nilsson’s birthday, Jutanugarn promised that she’d focus more on her commitment to each shot in the final round and less on outcome.

“I would say without them, I’m not who I am right now,” said Jutanugarn of her strong team of supporters.

“Because how many times I just want to like stop and I feel like (it’s) so tough for me, but they – like Pia and Lynn told me this morning, I want you to believe in yourself at the same level they believing in me.

“So that just mean so much to me. After I talk to them, I feel like I just come back and believe in myself, and one day I’m going to get what I want.”

At long last, that day has arrived.