Of course, by now everyone who knows golf, knows Ariya Jutanugarn.
The Bangkok native is currently on top of the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings, and has been there since last November, after the TOTO Japan Classic. The 23-year-old broke history as she became the first golfer from Thailand to win a major championship, including the men’s ranks.
The reigning US Women’s Open Champion did not participate in collegiate golf but instead turned professional at the tender age of 16. She holds the record for being the youngest player (age 11) to ever qualify for an LPGA event when she competed at the Honda LPGA.
In 2016, Jutanugarn’s second year on the LPGA Tour, she won three consecutive tournaments, becoming the first LPGA player to win three events in a row. She is an extraordinary athlete who has a gifted physical stature but yet still has the touch of an artisan around the greens. It was on many lips very early on in her career that she has every tool needed to dominate the sport to its very core.
Everyone agrees that Jutanugarn is a fantastic golfer, but I believe that she is more than that. Ariya is a generational talent.
Jutanugarn’s statistic shows that her breakout season was no fluke, and in fact she possesses more weapons in her arsenal than any run-of-the-mill professionals. If we were to draw comparisons, I’d say that the G.O.A.T Annika Sorenstam and Lorena Ochoa in their -keyword- prime, were in fact only on par with Jutanugarn.
With 93 titles under her belt, Sorenstam peaked in 2005, where she won 10 events – including two majors. The Swede had a swing of pure beauty, engineered like a caliber, and with a metronome-like tempo second-to-none. Sorenstam won all three trophies available to her that year; the LPGA Player of the Year, the Vare Trophy, and the Money Winner.
In 2005, Sorenstam averaged a score of 69.3. Her greatest strength would be her swing mechanics. Sorenstam was able to execute it so repetitively that she barely made any mistakes. She played 52 rounds under par for the year, and her nearest competitor South Korean Jeong Jang was at 51 rounds. However, by virtue of playing more than 20 rounds lesser, Sorenstam had a percentage of 74.3% but Jeong’s was at 54.8%.
Sorenstam averaged 4.16 birdies per round, followed by hitting 77.2% greens in regulation and averaged 1.75 putts per green in regulation. Other key statistics include her Par-3s and Par-4s averages – 2.92 and 3.94.
After the year 2005, Sorenstam never peaked again, and soon announced her retirement in 2008 following a neck injury.
These statistics were picked because they determine more than one factor in each category as well as the most important component for golf – scoring. Most women, in fact over 80% of the LPGA golfers average under-par for Par-5s.
Moving on, Lorena Ochoa had a stranglehold on the LPGA for a good consecutive four years between 2006-2009. Her emergence eclipsed the slow decline of Sorenstam, and surprisingly the Mexican left the Tour as soon as she burst onto the scene, calling it a day at the end of 2010 – just seven years into her career. Coincidentally, Ochoa shares the same Alma mater as Sorenstam, both being Wildcats from the University of Arizona.
In 2007, Ochoa won eight events including the Women’s British Open. Ochoa had a rather small stature but her conditioning was what separated her from the pack. Week in and week out competing on Tour is no easy feat, but to do it as consistently as Ochoa was a whole different level. The now mother-of-three played in 25 events in 2007, and came in top-10 a total of a staggering 21 times – an 84% rate after averaging a score of 69.7 per round. Her nearest competitor was Paula Creamer, who was too enjoying a stellar year but was only coming in top-10 54% of the time.
Ochoa averaged 4.3 birdies per round while hitting 73% of her greens in regulation. She too, led the tour on putts per green in regulation at 1.76. Her Par-3 and Par-4 averages at 2.98 and 3.96.
Now back to Jutanugarn.
Ariya’s 2018 was almost identical to both former greats.
She led the tour in scoring at 69.4 per round, was the birdie leader at 4.43 and hit 71% of her greens. She was putting at 1.72 strokes per green in regulation and her Par-3 and Par-4 averages were 2.92 and 3.93.
Almost identical numbers.
But Jutanugarn is just getting started.
Till date, Jutanugarn has not used her driver for a full tournament, but instead opt to use her trusty TaylorMade AeroBurner 3-wood (manufactured in 2015) and the TaylorMade Tour Preferred Utility Driving Iron. Both Sorenstam and Ochoa are long hitters with their respective drivers but with Jutanugarn averaging 266 yards off the tee using just her 3-wood, her brilliant style of course management allows her to make pragmatic decisions which leads to improved scoring. Her reluctance to use a driver not only portrays maturity but also a strong understanding of her game and THE game.
She might end up to be the Henrik Stenson of the LPGA but the future addition or rather the current dismissal of a driver could open up a new dimension to her game. And we will never know until it happens. The fact that she is already matching prime Sorenstam and Ochoa on production is an unbelievable feat.
If that doesn’t convince you, maybe this will.
Check out her statistics in comparison with the two-major five-win season of 2002’s Tiger Woods https://www.pgatour.com/players/player.08793.tiger-woods.html
One thing is for certain, the standard of golf in both the men and women’s division has dramatically improved over the years, hence the gap between Jutanugarn and her peers thread only a thin line and any statistical leads never really jump out. Analysis wise, her spectacular iron and wedge play is what really sets her apart from the field. She has made two huge shots in her career, one at the fourth playoff hole at the US Open last year from the bunker to two feet and the win, as well as at the KingsMill Championship where she hit back-to-back approaches to under 10 feet on two playoff holes to win the title.
She is definitely something else.
You can catch Ariya Jutanugarn in action at the HSBC Women’s World Championships at Sentosa Golf Club, 28th February – 3rd March.
For more information on the tournament, head to https://www.hsbcgolf.com/womens
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