Ariya Jutanugarn is the hottest golfer on the planet. With three consecutive LPGA victories, the 20-year-old Thai golfer is riding high one week before the second major championship of the season, the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. But after playing in 11 consecutive tournaments over a 13-week stretch, she needs a break.
“I really just want to rest right now,” Jutanugarn said on Sunday after winning the LPGA Volvik Championship.
Jutanugarn will have further incentive next week as she was leading the ANA Inspiration, the season’s first major, on the back nine before driving into a hazard on the final hole and allowing Lydia Ko to win. She cited nerves and being in a new position, issues she has resolved with her recent wins. Jutanugarn’s power will be welcomed at Sahalee Golf Club, known for its tight fairways lined with towering Douglas fir trees. Last week, she didn’t carry a driver in Michigan and can hit her 3-wood as far as 270 yards. She has dropped the driver from her bag on other occasions this season.
Whether to ride momentum or rest before a major championship is an individual decision steeped in tradition and spur of the moment.
Ko, the world’s top-ranked women’s golfer, is taking the week off before heading to Sammamish, Wash., and Sahalee Golf Club for the second playing of the KPMG Women’s PGA. Ko took a two-week break in early May and played the last two weeks to prepare for the second major (finished T18 and T16). She has won the last two majors, the Evian Championship last September in France and the ANA Inspiration in early April. She captured the Kia Classic the week before the ANA.
“It's always good to be going into an event with some good rhythm,” said Ko, the most recent of 18 players to win the week before and then a major. “Obviously me not playing next week, I’m not really coming off with any sort of rhythm going to the KPMG event. But to me my goal is to play on the weekend this year (missed cut last year). I know it’s just a step going forward, and obviously having won the first major of the year I know there will be some expectations but I've just got to enjoy it.
“Last year I almost was pushing myself, trying to work too hard, trying to want it so much at that time of the year, so to me I realize that I’ve got to have fun and that’s the big key for me.”
Rest may be the best recipe for three-time defending KPMG champion Inbee Park. She took one month off from mid-April to mid-May because of a thumb injury. In her two return starts, she was forced to withdraw after the first round of both because of lingering thumb problems. Additionally, as of the first round of next week’s event, she will fulfill the active membership criteria for the LPGA Hall of Fame. She will meet the benchmark of 10 years of active LPGA Tour after the conclusion of the first round of her 10th start this season.
Taking a week off also offers a chance to more deeply understand Sahalee, a Ted Robinson-designed course in suburban Seattle, famous for its trees and fast greens. The course was the site of the 1998 PGA Championship, won by Vijay Singh.
This week’s ShopRite LPGA Classic has players who are focusing on continuing momentum while competing. Brooke Henderson is the top-ranked player in the field, at No. 4, and is coming off a T3 finish at last week’s LPGA Volvik Championship. Stacy Lewis, ranked No. 6, is trying to end a two-year winless drought and finished T2 at the Yokohama Tire Classic three weeks ago. Gerina Piller has six consecutive top-10 finishes and is eyeballing her first LPGA title. She also moved to No. 15 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, good enough to qualify for the Rio Olympics – with a July 11 deadline looming for being in the top 15.
“There’s definitely things I have to work on going into next week,” Henderson said on Sunday. “Some silly mistakes early in the week and even today a couple, but overall I’m very happy with how things are going and hopefully just be able to finish it off in the near future.”