Jutanugarn sisters spur Thailand
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The "big" sister is actually the little one, and vice versa. They are the very best of buds, even if they do periodically try to one-up each other.
The Jutanugarn sisters -- Moriya and Ariya -- grew up in Bangkok, Thailand, where their parents own a golf pro shop. Moriya is older; she will turn 20 on Monday. Ariya is 16 months younger, but about 5 inches taller. Moriya has the slighter build, that of perhaps a gymnast. Ariya looks as if she could be a basketball point guard.
But the siblings always have had one idea about what they wanted to do for a living: They would be professional golfers. Who needs a backup plan?
These two are confident that they have a long future on the links. They hope to be on the same tour soon. For now, Moriya plays on the LPGA Tour, where she was rookie of the year in 2013. Ariya, whose career took a little detour last year with a freakish shoulder injury, is on the Ladies European Tour for now.
But this week, they are together again, teamed with Pornanong Phatlum and Onnarin Sattayabanphot to make up Team Thailand at the International Crown. The Thais won both their matches Friday against Taiwan and lead the Pool A standings with 5 points.
Tied in second place with 4 points -- and next up Saturday for Thailand -- is the United States. After being shut out Thursday, the Stars and Stripes crew of Stacy Lewis, Paula Creamer, Cristie Kerr and Lexi Thompson rallied 'round the flag Friday and won both of their matches against Spain.
The United States is the No. 1 overall seed at this new competition, and Thailand is No. 4. And while the Americans admit to being a little more familiar with the Spanish players they defeated Friday, they have a healthy respect for Thailand.
"The two sisters are a good team," Creamer said. "And the other two aren't messing around, either."
Phatlum is the top-ranked Thai player at No. 28, and she's known on tour for her colorful outfits that her caddie-brother matches. She hasn't won an LPGA title yet, but at age 24 has a career-best finish of third. Sattayabanphot is 30 and played collegiately at Purdue. Before the International Crown, she hadn't competed on the LPGA Tour since 2008; she regularly plays on the Japanese tour.
All four Thai players wore big smiles Friday after playing so well. Moriya and Ariya won 3 and 2 over Candie Kung and Teresa Lu. Phatlum and Sattayabanphot beat Yani Tseng and Phoebe Yao 1 up.
The Jutanugarn sisters also played together Thursday and halved their match against Spain. They weren't entirely satisfied with their performance that day and wanted another chance to team up. Both birdied the first hole Friday and never trailed.
They're sticking together Saturday, too, as they'll take on the team of Kerr and Thompson. Just because they are on the same side, though, doesn't mean the sisters don't maintain a playful rivalry with each other.
"Before I tee off," Ariya said, "I say, 'I'm going to make a birdie.' And she says, 'No, I'm going to make a birdie.' "
And back and forth, and back and forth. Lewis was asked what she thought it would be like if her sister were also a golfer and they teamed up.
"I don't know if I could play golf with my sister," Lewis said, laughing. "Our personalities are so different. I don't know if that would ever work.
"But I think [the Jutanugarns] are very close. They have a good time together, and obviously they've played a ton of golf together. So [for the International Crown] that was definitely going to be an advantage for them."
The Jutanugarns' playful side is often evident, but it actually hurt Ariya in an accident last year. At the LPGA Championship in Rochester, New York, Ariya was joking with Moriya and started chasing her with a water bottle. She wiped out on some wet grass, fell awkwardly down a hill and hurt her shoulder. She ended up needing surgery and was out of action a few months but proclaims herself "90 percent" healthy now.
Ariya was ranked No. 18 when she got hurt and was considered the Jutanugarn sibling on the faster track to LPGA success. But older sister Moriya ended up carrying the Jutanugarn family banner well last year, as she had one top-10 finish and won about $365,000 on the LPGA Tour. She hasn't replicated that success so far this year -- her best finish is tied for 27th -- but this event may give her a boost.
The Jutanugarns are not the first Thai siblings to emerge as top female golfers. Twins Aree and Naree Song -- who initially went by their mother's Thai last name Wongluekiet before opting for their Korean father's surname -- were successful as teenagers but are not competing now on the LPGA Tour.
The Jutanugarns don't see that as any kind of cautionary tale. They are too young and confident right now to worry about the future. And they'll be going against the "home" team Saturday, but they certainly didn't sound intimidated.
They are just having fun teaming up for Thailand. Competing for your country is a great way to spend a few days with your sister.