Heading into the back nine at the US Women’s Open with a seven-shot lead, Thailand’s Ariya Jutanugarn briefly appeared in danger of emulating the great Arnold Palmer for all the wrong reasons.
Palmer collapsed in spectacular fashion at the US Open in 1966, surrendering a seemingly unassailable advantage before losing a playoff to eventual champion Billy Casper.
This weekend at the Shoal Creek Golf and Country Club, Jutanugarn did no such thing.
What might have been the most difficult day of the 22-year-old’s career ended with her winning Sunday’s playoff against Hyo-Joo Kim and walking away $900,000 richer with a second major title.
She certainly didn’t make it easy for herself.
“It was tough because I started thinking about the outcome and tried to play good,” Jutanugarn told CNN, after a triple bogey on the 10th kick started an almost terminal collapse.
“Obviously that wasn’t going to happen because I was thinking about the outcome too much.”
Jutanugarn admitted in her press conference she’d been aware of the scoreboard, “scared” and too “uncomfortable” to hit a three wood. Meanwhile Kim was closing the gap. Fast.
The South Korean, who shot a major record 61 at the 2014 Evian Championship, steadily chipped away at Jutanugarn’s lead, ending the round as the only player with a blemish-free scorecard.
The Thai, by contrast, made further bogeys on the 12th, 17th and 18th. A playoff awaited.
The key to success? Smiling
Having worked with mental coach in Thailand for around two years, a positive mindset was the key to Jutanugarn’s subsequent victory, secured after the fourth playoff hole.
“Honestly I tried to smile,” she said. “I thought if I kept doing that it was going to make me happy. I tried hard to do that.
“After you have a seven-shot lead and have to go to a playoff, you kind of have no expectation. I got mad a little bit about what happened in my back nine, but I decided I’d just make sure I’d do my best to every shot.
“Because I felt disappointed already, I didn’t think about the outcome. It just felt like a last chance to make myself proud. I just took the shot in front of me.”
She joins Annika Sorenstam, Karrie Webb, Se Ri Pak and Inbee Park as the only players to win both the US women’s Open and the British Open.
Palmer never won a major again after his collapse all those years ago. Jutanugarn, at this rate, appears to be just getting started.
“I want to play golf as long as I can [and] just try to win my next tournament” she told CNN. “I want to be the best in my own way.”