Golf: Ariya's win boosts golf's global reach

Thailand's Ariya Jutanugarn is sprayed with bottled water after winning the Women's British Open at Woburn Golf Club on Sunday. She avoided a repeat of the ANA Inspiration, where she led before fading.
Thailand's Ariya Jutanugarn is sprayed with bottled water after winning the Women's British Open at Woburn Golf Club on Sunday. She avoided a repeat of the ANA Inspiration, where she led before fading.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Gritty three-stroke victory by Thai makes her the 1st Major champion from an Asean nation

WOBURN (ENGLAND) • Anyone questioning golf's return to the Olympic Games after more than a century had their answer at Woburn on Sunday, as Ariya Jutanugarn won the women's British Open to become the first South-east Asian golfer - of either gender - to win a Major title.

Proving that the sport produces talent from all parts of the world - thus justifying its Olympic inclusion - the 20-year-old Thai finally proved that she had enough steel to win at the highest level.

Two ahead at the start of the final round, her lead was six shots by the time she birdied the long second hole and short sixth hole.

Yet, the Thai had to survive a great second-half challenge from playing partner Lee Mi Rim before securing an emotional three-stroke victory.

The South Korean golfer birdied three holes in a row from the 10th, and, when Ariya had two nervous chips and double-bogeyed the 13th, the advantage was down to one.

BEST PREPARATION FOR RIO

I think this is very important for me and for Thai golf. I hope it inspires other Thai golfers. Now I have two weeks to rest and practise. I am really excited for Rio and to play really well.

ARIYA JUTANUGARN, after winning the women's British Open.

But Ariya, who won three tournaments in a row on the LPGA Tour in May, rolled in a 20-foot birdie putt at the 17th and then a solid par at the last hole to finish on six-under 66 (and a 16-under 272 total) to grab the US$450,000 (S$603,000) first prize.

Lee three-putted the 18th hole for a bogey and a 73 left her joint second with 2014 champion Mo Martin on 275. The American had a closing 70.

Ariya had missed 10 successive cuts after suffering a shoulder injury in her rookie LPGA Tour season last year.

This year, she had led the first Major - the ANA Inspiration - by two shots with three holes to play, but stumbled to finish fourth.

Overcoming those past adversities helped her win Sunday's Open title, as she said: "The low points taught me to be patient. I knew when I missed all the cuts that I was only 19 and I had plenty of time."

There may well be more such titles to come for her. After collecting the silver vase on Sunday, she will next be taking aim at a gold medal in Rio de Janeiro.

She is certainly a welcome new personality for the game as she gives her two-iron a healthy smack, having left her driver in the locker last week to stay away from Woburn's forest of pines, and taking time to smile her way around the course.

The daughter of golfing parents who run a pro shop in Bangkok, Ariya was embraced on the 18th green by her mother Narumon and sister Moriya, who on this occasion may not have minded finishing 16 strokes behind the champion.

"It feels great," said Ariya. "My goal was to win a Major so I am really proud of myself. I think this is very important for me and for Thai golf. I hope it inspires other Thai golfers. Now I have two weeks to rest and practise. I am really excited for Rio and to play really well."

Golf's re-entry to the Olympics was all about spreading the game beyond the traditional heartlands of Britain, the United States, Australia and South Africa.

The women's game is ideally placed to do that and, in contrast to their male counterparts, all the leading stars have committed to earning medals for their countries.

THE GUARDIAN, REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 02, 2016, with the headline 'Ariya's win boosts golf's global reach'. Print Edition | Subscribe