Story by Nadia Willan
Thailand’s Top Golfer : Ariya Jutanugarn
Ariya Jutanugarn is a golfing tour de force. Still in her early 20s, she’s Thailand’s top player and one of the best female golfers not only in the country but across the globe. Her rise to the golfing A list, has been impressive and meteoric, making Thailand a contender on the global golf circuit sporting map and the only Thai player to win a major international championship.
World Ranking and LPGA Wins
In June 2017, a computer glitch saw her declared top of the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings, making her the best female player in the world, only for her to be relegated to the Number 2 spot a week later. Unphased, Ariya, who is renowned for her confident and bold playing style, has her eye on the ball and has claimed six LPGA titles since the start of 2016. Ariya was victorious in the 2017 Manulife LPGA Classic, gaining 8.78 points in the world rankings and winning her over a quarter of a million US dollars, in what has been described as a dramatic performance. In 2016 alone, she won titles in the Yokohama Tire LPGA Classic, Kingsmill Championship, LPGA Volvik Championship, Ricoh Women’s British Open and the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open.
Professional at 16
With parents who run a golf shop at a course in Bangkok, Ariya grew up around golfing, turning professional in 2012 at the tender age of just 16. However, one of her first tastes of what was to come was back in 2017 when at aged 11 she qualified for Honda LPGA Thailand as an amateur, making her the youngest player ever. Her sister, Moriya was her caddy for the competition, herself a professional golfer of note who in 2009 became the first female to win the Duke of York Young Champions Trophy.
Elite Plus asked Ariya what impact she saw her success having on the popularity of golf in Thailand and the opportunity for young Thai players. “I just hope that the young generation start to believe in themselves. We come from a small country and now we know that we can do it. If I can do it, they can do it too,” she replied.
An Award-winning Sports Star
Since turning professional, Ariya, who is renowned for not using a driver, has teed-off as part of the LPGA Tour and Ladies European Tour. Her success has garnered her many awards, including the 2017 Best Female Golfer ESPY Award, 2016 LPGA Player of the Year, 2016 Fox Sports Asia Breakthrough Athlete Award and the 2016 Thailand Professional Athlete of the Year Award.
While a shoulder injury has reportedly plagued her during 2017, Ariya’s sporting success is set to rise. A powerful player, who ranks 16th on the LPGA Tour in terms of her average driving distance which is close to 267 yards, the Thai golfer reveals to Elite Plus her feel-good strategy for the future. “My focus is solely on being happy on the course. I will stay healthy and enjoy what I do every day. I am thankful for the opportunity I have. Everything else will come naturally”.
Leading Golf Tourism Destination
Thailand is fast-becoming a world-class golf destination and golf tourism is a multi-billion-dollar industry for the kingdom. In July 2017, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) hosted the Thailand Golf Travel Mart (TGTM) 2017 to connect golf tour operators with suppliers and golf course owners in the country. The Kingdom has in the region of 250 courses, many of which are world-class, with Chiang Mai being voted the Golf Destination of the Year Asia and Australasia 2017. Golfing events such as the newly launched Thailand and Japan Golf Festival aim to boost golf tourism too.
Championship Thai Golfers
While US golfer Tiger Woods may have a Thai connection, since his mother comes from Thailand, there are several leading Thai golfers putting the sport on the map in the country. These include Thongchai Jaidee who is the highest career earner on the Asian Tour and also plays on the European Tour; Prayad Marksaeng who was one of the first male players to hit a million US dollars in earnings from the Asian Tour and also competes in the Japan Golf Tour as well as having featured in the Top 100 players in the Official World Golf Ranking; Boonchu Ruangkit who has won championships on the Asian Tour and now plays on the Champions Tour; and Pornanong Phatlum, a female golfer, who is still in her 20s, who plays on the LPGA Tour, Ladies European Tour and Ladies Asian Golf Tour, ranking in the Top 10 in the US Women’s Open in 2014.
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