Ariya Jutanugarn finds peace at CME with Rolex award, LPGA money title secure


NAPLES, Fla. – For a second time, Ariya Jutanugarn finds herself on top of the mountain at the CME Group Tour Championship. But the big-hearted Thai player is not the same person she was two years ago, when success came rushing at her like a freight train.

This is a more comfortable Jutanugarn.

At her pre-tournament press conference in Naples, Jutanugarn laughed with ease, answered questions directly and even broke down in tears when asked where big sister Moriya’s victory ranked among her favorite days of the year.

“I think it’s No. 1,” she said.

There’s a lot that comes with being No. 1, and answering questions in English has brought a lot of anxiety for Jutanugarn, who used to let her sister do most of the talking.

A couple of months ago Ariya had a lightbulb moment regarding the press: “I just realized I don’t have any pressure anymore. I felt like I should be myself and say whatever I want to say. … If I say the wrong thing, so what? It doesn’t mean that I’m a bad person. It just means I didn’t understand what you guys say.”

Sounds simple enough, but for a player who has to stand in front of a camera nearly every day, it’s huge.

Jutanugarn, a three-time winner this year, comes to the CME Group Tour Championship having already locked up the Rolex Player of the Year Award and money title. She also leads the tour in scoring.

“We had dinner last night,” said Vision54 coach Lynn Marriott, “and I just see a little more peace inside of her.

“I see that she’s having more fun this time around than last time. There’s so much there that people don’t yet see that’s so funny. And genuine. I think the more comfortable she is you’re going to see more of that.”

Jutanugarn points to her victory at the U.S. Women’s Open, where she overcame a mid-round meltdown to win in a playoff at Shoal Creek, as a tremendous learning experience.

“I feel great on what happen in my life on that day,” she said. “I feel great about that because I learn so much. That day help me a lot. It’s make me feel like I don’t have to play well to be able to win a tournament, but I have to know what I been doing and focus on the thing in my control.”

Late in 2017, a frustrated Jutanugarn wondered how long she’d even play this game. But she dug deep, as her father taught her, and triumphed here at Tiburon Golf Club, setting the stage for a 2018 season that included a tour-leading 16 top-10 finishes.

Jutanugarn knows that she’s resilient. But more than that, she is discovering along the way that being herself is more than enough.

Jutanugarn turns 23 years old on Nov. 23. She hopes to celebrate the same way she did last year – by visiting a school for the underprivileged in Thailand and handing out presents.

The heart of a champion.

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