U.S. WOMEN'S OPEN
Moriya Seeks Equal Billing in Jutanugarn Sister Act
July 12, 2017 | BEDMINSTER, N.J.
By Lisa D. Mickey
If you see one sister, the other is usually not far away.
Big sister Moriya Jutanugarn and younger sibling Ariya Jutanugarn of Thailand travel and room together, play practice rounds together, eat together and sometimes spend time away from golf together on the LPGA Tour. If there’s a yin and yang of professional golf, they are it.
And this year, the two are closer than ever – not just in daily interactions, but also in performance.
While little sis, Ariya – who notched five wins last year – has overshadowed her older sibling in recent years, Moriya has new momentum with six top-10 finishes in 2017, including a tie for second in late June at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.
Currently, Ariya is No. 2 in the world and Moriya is No. 32, her career-high ranking. Ariya is ranked third on the LPGA’s money list, while Moriya is No. 11.
Although Moriya leads her sister – and the LPGA Tour – in birdies (255), under-par holes (261) and aces (2), Ariya has nine top-10 finishes, including a victory at the Manulife LPGA Classic and three runner-up finishes.
When it comes to showcasing honors in the family’s scrapbook back home in Bangkok, consider that Moriya was the LPGA’s top rookie in 2013, while Ariya was the LPGA’s 2016 player of the year.
“We share everything together – our golf games and life,” said Moriya, 22, who was the runner-up to Danielle Kang in the 2011 U.S. Women’s Amateur as Ariya caddied for her. “We’ve been doing a lot of things together since we were young girls. We do the same things, just in different ways.”
Both players are in the field of this week’s U.S. Women’s Open Championship and each would like to lift the trophy on Sunday. Moriya, also known as “Mo,” is seeking her first win as an LPGA professional, while Ariya is seeking her seventh win and second major championship.
“This is a special week,” said Ariya, 21, also known to her family and friends as “May.” “But it’s also like other tournaments because we play and practice together every week, every tournament, so the same is true here.”
Moriya was first to the LPGA in 2013, where she played for two years and traveled alone while Ariya competed on the Ladies European Tour and later, recovered from an accident.
Big sister had to step in to console Ariya after her younger sibling took a tumble off a tee box while the two were clowning around in 2013. Ariya tore the labrum in her right shoulder, which required surgery and sidelined the younger sister for 8 months.
Eventually, Ariya began playing in LPGA Monday qualifying tournaments and earning sponsor exemptions. She earned full LPGA membership in 2015, but once again, big sis delivered regular pep talks as Ariya endured 10 consecutive missed cuts from late April to late July 2015, in a season that produced only four top-10 finishes and 12 missed cuts in 29 events.
“She inspired me a lot when I got here and I didn’t feel like a rookie,” said Ariya, who won the 2011 U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship. “And when I needed help, she was there. I felt like anything I wanted to know, I could ask my sister.”
The two are a contrast in character. Moriya is the more serious of the two, a self-described perfectionist who is ultra task-oriented in her daily rituals.
Ariya is the jokester, the more casually comical player, who sometimes will find shady spots on tees during hot tournament days and will sit on the ground – sometimes encouraging her fellow pros to sit with her until it’s their time to tee off.
When the two practice together, sometimes they will throw down a couple of golf balls and bet on the result of their next shots. Closest to the hole wins. Loser buys dinner.
“It’s always more fun when we practice together,” said Ariya. “We fight all the time about everything, but we still get along. She is my best friend.”
And while Ariya outperformed her older sister in their first few years on Tour, she is also her sister’s biggest fan as Moriya has ramped up her game this year.
“I’m really happy for the year she’s having,” said Ariya. “She deserves it because she works so hard to be a better golfer.”
Moriya credits the comfort she feels with her sister by her side for making the traveling life of a touring pro easier.
“So far, so good,” said Moriya. “This year has been great, but of course in golf, with every new week, you’re just starting from zero. We never know what’s going to happen.”
The two players have worked with teachers Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott in their Vision 54 instructional program and credit them for helping the sisters find greater balance in their lives, both on and off the golf course.
Now, instead of golf, golf, golf, the sisters may leave the course early to go to the movies, as they did last week when they took in the film “Despicable Me 3.”
Ariya will watch dramas on TV, while Moriya might listen to music. And while they may be in the same room, each is focused on different things.
That journey has been one the sisters discovered together – building balance as they compete against the best players in the world, including each other.
“Golf is important to us, but you have to have life, family, friends and your free time,” said Moriya. “We play golf for a living, but golf is probably just 50 percent of my life.”
And if big sister can guide her younger sibling in any way as they progress in their respective careers, it’s to simply remind her that the fun they have together now may pay off years down the road.
“When you enjoy something, it’s always going to turn out pretty good,” said Moriya. “We’ve both been working hard and we love this game, and we just want to play the best we can, supporting each other.”
Lisa D. Mickey is a Florida-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA websites.