By Julie Williams, Golfweek
From behind the zoom lens of a hefty Canon camera, Ariya Jutanugarn’s laughter rings out. On a cool afternoon in Cleveland, not even an hour removed from breezing into match play at the U.S. Women’s Amateur, Jutanugarn has reversed this photo shoot.
Playing around the shady, foliage-protected swimming pool at The Country Club, Jutanugarn expertly handles the photographer’s gear – she has her own Instagram account, you know – relinquishing the camera only to ham it up in the spotlight. Older sister Moriya joins. Soon, they’re trying to shove each other’s heads into the water and splashing while fully clothed. Then they return to their iPhones.
Sure, this day has been a grind, and though many a competitive round ends on a putting green or practice range at sunset, these Thai sisters truly love golf.
They will be good at this, good in front of the spotlight. Just a year ago, Ariya, 16, still leaned heavily on Moriya, 18, as much for her caddie services as for translation.
These days, Ariya sometimes repeats a word slowly and interrupts with, “What does that mean?” before digging deep to answer the question thoroughly. Most interviews end with this line: “Has my English gotten better?”
It has. Exponentially, in fact. Aside from the ever-present smile and the incredible short game, it was the most striking thing about the world’s No. 3-ranked amateur during a summer of extraordinary success. She and Moriya, No. 12 in the R&A rankings, played arguably the toughest competition of any amateurs in the world.
It’s time now to separate. The LPGA held tight to its 18-year-old age minimum, which prompted Ariya to petition (and be accepted by) the Ladies European Tour. That tour’s Q-School will be played in December. Moriya, meanwhile, won the first stage of LPGA Q-School on Sept. 7 and advanced through second stage on Oct. 12. She has one more stage to go.
If their pro careers launch the way the Jutanugarns hope, they’ll have to do it on separate tours and continents. That scenario may have its benefits – it could help Moriya and Ariya develop distinct identities – but it also means the coming year could be unlike any they’ve experienced.