Here Comes Thailand

What are they putting in the water these days in Thailand? Where golf is concerned, it’s a fair question. Ariya Jutanugarn has won her second consecutive LPGA tournament this week in the Kingsmill. Two weeks ago, she won the Yokohama Tire Classic. She’s come close to winning several others in recent times, and only lost one when her standard aggressive style of play “done her wrong.” That’s just going to happen once in a while when you go for blood with every shot, as Jutanugarn does. When you’re playing well, however, your’re going to be dangerous. It’s the “You only live once style” versus the “strategic course management” style.

thai 2In the first win, she admits, although not in so many words, that her inner nerves were break-dancing while she was trying to putt. This week, she had to cozy in a five-footer to avoid a playoff, and did what was necessary, with only a little bit of hand shaking. I remember talking about Jutanugarn and her sister Moriya. Back then, I went on about how Thailand had joined the budding overseas golf culture, and how they had a couple of good players that might lead the next generation into the winner’s circle. That was all wrong. Thailand is here – and Ariya Jutanugarn is here, with her sister already on the money list as well.

It was bad homework on my part. I didn’t bother to check to see if Ariya had qualified for the Honda LPGA Thailand at the age of eleven. I somehow overlooked the fact that she entered four European Ladies events, and finished in the top four in all of them.  I didn’t know that Jutanugarn, who still lives in Thailand, won all kinds of Junior awards, there and overseas. I was looking 20 years into the future, instead of the next LPGA season. What Jutanugarn has done is downright Ko-esque, and if she continues this habit, even winning a major to go with her other consecutive wins, what are we going to do with the rankings?

Jutanugarn, incidentally, is the younger sister, but don’t think that Moriya is walking with a cane yet. They are thick as thieves, play matches together, and travel together extensively. Ariya is only 20, and we’re beginning to wonder what happened to the great golfers that, although not yet being old, are outside of the new magic window of 23. So far this year, every single event has been won by a golfer 23 or under. Maybe the veteran golfers are living their lives a little more broadly, and in most cases are not so driven or mono-sighted.  Maybe the young wizards have put on blinders on their way to the range and the first tee. I don’t know how they do it in Thailand, but it’s working.

The modern game of golf is said to have come to Thailand in 1975 with the Navatanee Golf Club, when the course hosted the World Cup in that year. And why not? An artistic country like that has certainly produced golf courses in keeping with the high national aesthetic. The Blue Canyon course in Phuket will host the Johnny Walker Classic – now how’s that for a mix of cultures? And, the Thailand Country Club will host a big one in the Asia Volvo Masters. If you want to take a look, check out the Alpine Golf Club in Bangkok, or any of the other approximately 260 courses in the country. thai 1

In this day and age, Asian cultures don’t do things by halves, including half-heartedly. China jumped in with a tournament, and native daughter Shanshan Feng won it. South Korea is winning all over the map. One New Zealander is scaring everybody,  and now Thailand has decided not to wait a century to succeed. It’s ready now, thank you. I suppose that the Olympics this year will feature a high-powered family affair from Bangkok. For the LPGA, the You-Know-What Championship is coming up soon, and it’s none too soon for a championship Thai golfer who’s at the top of her game, and ready to go for three in a row.

 

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