US Women's Open 2019

Putting, not driving, the big concern for below-par Ariya

Thailand's former world No. 1 Ariya Jutanugarn is in the midst of a slump. She captured 10 LPGA Tour titles from 2016 to 2018 but is winless since last July. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Thailand's former world No. 1 Ariya Jutanugarn is in the midst of a slump. She captured 10 LPGA Tour titles from 2016 to 2018 but is winless since last July. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

CHARLESTON (South Carolina) • A year after narrowly averting what arguably would have been the biggest ever collapse in Major golf, defending champion Ariya Jutanugarn arrives at this week's US Women's Open seeking to spark her game back to life.

Though she has not missed a cut this year, and is a healthy 19th on the LPGA Tour money list, the Thai has not hit peak form. Her highest finish this season was joint-third at last month's Lotte Championship.

Ariya, 23, said her putting has not been up to scratch, and she continues to play without a driver. Not that she needs it thanks to her prodigious power that allows her to smash a two-iron as far as many others can hit with their biggest club.

"The most important thing to make a putt, you need to have a good speed," she said ahead of today's opening round at Country Club of Charleston. "When I feel uncomfortable and don't trust my stroke, it's tough to have a good speed. So right now, I'm working on my speed to get better."

Her putting will be tested here on challenging greens that will expose any weaknesses, but at least she will not miss her driver off the tee, or so she thinks.

"Some holes I really have to hit like two-iron off the tee or three-iron because the fairway is pretty narrow and you don't want to put yourself in the bunker," she said.

Like many other classic old courses, the Country Club of Charleston, which opened in 1925, is too short to realistically host a men's event. But, at 6,535 yards, the par-71 is ideally suited for the women's game.

If Ariya finds herself on Sunday in a similar situation to last year, she vows to approach it differently.

At Shoal Creek in Alabama 12 months ago, she had a seven-shot lead with nine holes left, only to triple-bogey the 10th hole and eventually fall into a play-off, where she made amends by holding off South Korean Kim Hyo-joo.

"I thought it should be easy for me to win the tournament, but that's not a good way to think about that," she said of being complacent.

Meanwhile, the United States Golf Association announced this week's winner will receive US$1 million (S$1.38 million), the first seven-figure payout in women's golf. The tournament will have a total purse of US$5.5 million, up US$500,000 from last year.

That is less than half the record US$12.5 million on offer at the men's US Open at Pebble Beach next month, though the US$500,000 increase from last year is the same for both sexes.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

US WOMEN'S OPEN

Day 1: Singtel TV Ch115 & StarHub Ch209, tomorrow, 2.30am

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 30, 2019, with the headline 'Putting, not driving, the big concern for below-par Ariya'. Print Edition | Subscribe