CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — Ariya Jutanugarn isn’t concerned about making history with a second straight U.S. Women’s Open. She’s more focused on the lessons learned from last year’s back-nine collapse that nearly kept her from the championship.
Jutanugarn held a seven-shot lead through 63 holes at Shoal Creek on what looked like a romp to her second major championship. Instead, Jutanugarn lost it all and was forced into a four-hole playoff where she finally prevailed over Hoo-Joo Kim for the title.
The 23-year-old Jutanugarn is hopeful she’ll be back in the mix at the Country Club of Charleston this weekend. She’s sure she won’t let her mind wander as it did down the stretch a year ago.
Jutanugarn said she stood at the 10th tee on Sunday’s final round in 2018 thinking she’s going to keep the seven-shot lead until the last hole and “it should be easy for me to win the tournament.”
She added: “But that’s not a good way to think about that.”
That became apparent after making triple-bogey on the 10th to dent her psyche. She closed the tournament bogey-bogey to drop into the playoff and won with a nifty up-and-down from the bunker.
Jutanugarn was grateful to hang tough and finish on top when others might have let emotions derail them. She’s also happy with her increased resolve, knowing success won’t simply fall in her lap because of her talent.
She says she needs to “stick with my process” because thinking about a big lead “is not helping me to even hit a good golf shot.”
Jutanugarn, of Thailand, will need plenty of strong shots to keep pace with a stacked field that includes world No. 1 Jin-Young Ko of South Korea. She won the year’s first major, the ANA Inspiration, last month. If Jutanugarn succeeds, she’ll be the first with consecutive U.S. Women’s Open titles since World Golf Hall of Famer Karrie Webb in 2000-01.
The only golfer since then with two U.S. Women’s Open titles is Inbee Park, the champion in 2008 and 2013.
“If I can write my name one more time on the trophy, that will be just something unreal,” Park said.
Whoever comes out on top will earn the first $1 million first prize for a U.S. Golf Association women’s champion. The organization announced this week it was upping the overall prize money by $500,000 to $5.5 million, boosting the winner’s share from $900,000.
“They deserve that and it’s going to be awesome to see that check handed out Sunday,” said two-time U.S. Open winner Meg Mallon, who earned $110,000 for her first title in 1991.
Missing is 2014 U.S. Women’s Open winner Michelle Wie, who withdrew last week with a right hand injury.
Those teeing it up Thursday will face a tricky Seth Raynor-designed layout with several narrow fairways and par 5s that twist enough to make it difficult to hit greens in two. The putting surfaces are full of slopes.
And then there’s No. 11, a par-3 nightmare with large bunkers along both sides and a huge front slope on the green that sends short tee shots back into the fairway. Brittany Lang, the 2016 open champion, spent several minutes running balls up the front slope during her practice round.
“It’s kind of the hole where, OK, you accept bogey,” Morgan Pressel said. “If it happens, give yourself a good look at par. I think that’s kind of probably everybody’s strategy going into the week.”
Making her anticipated professional debut is NCAA champion Maria Fassi of Mexico. Fassi won the NCAA individual title this month at Arkansas and finished second to Jennifer Kupcho at the inaugural women’s amateur event at Augusta National. Kupcho is also playing the U.S. Women’s Open.
Players will face sweltering heat, starting with the first round on Thursday. Temperatures were in the mid-90s on Wednesday and were expected to remain there through the weekend. Several players used umbrellas on the walks between shots during the steamy practice round.
Bronte Law, who earned her first LPGA Tour victory last week at Pure Silk Championship in Williamsburg, Virginia, said she’ll keep hydrated and hit fewer practice shots to stay cooler.
“Hopefully, it shouldn’t be too much of an issue,” she said.