WOBURN – The practice of lengthening and toughening up golf courses on the PGA Tour after Tiger Woods’ Masters victory in 1997, commonly known as ‘Tiger-proofing,’ has made its way to the LPGA Tour.
Woburn Golf Club’s Marquess Course appears to have had a bit of ‘Ariya-proofing’ since Ariya Jutanugarn’s won her first major on the track in 2016. This week, the course is playing 293 yards longer than it did three years ago. The added length forced the Thai, who typically plays without a driver in her bag because her length gets her in more trouble than it’s worth, to play more long irons into greens.
“I remember when I played here last time, I just needed to hit 2-iron, 3-iron and have a pitching wedge,” Jutanugarn said. “This year, I hit 3-wood, still have 6-iron in. Hit 3-wood, still have like 5-iron in. So totally different golf course, harder than before.”
Thursday, buoyed by the memories of her victory in 2016, Jutanugarn carded a bogey-free, 68 to sit three-strokes back of the lead through day one of the AIG Women’s British Open. Her score was three-strokes higher than the opening round, 65 she carded ‘en route to victory three years ago. Thursday’s walk around Woburn was a time for Jutanugarn to reminisce with caddie Pete Godfrey, who was also on her bag for her first major victory. The distraction came as a welcome one as Jutanugarn hit just 10 fairways and recorded 31 putts, many of which were par saves. But the Thai took the struggles in her stride.
“I just need to keep having good commitment, have fun out there, because I’m laughing when I struggle a little bit to be happy on the course,” Jutanugarn said. “But right now, I’m getting much better.”
The day was a highlight in what has otherwise been a difficult year for Jutanugarn. She enjoyed a historic run in 2018, which saw her sweep the season ending awards for the first time in the history of the LPGA Tour. But now more than half way through the 2019 season, Jutanugarn remains in search of her first win of the year. Her disappointment with her performance on the golf course over the first half of the season bled into her personal life, but she says she’s making progress in learning to separate the two.
“The last six, seven months it’s like pretty tough for me,” Jutanugarn said. “I have to separate life and golf, because when I play bad, I’m kind of feeling bad and don’t want to play golf anymore. But even when I play bad, I have to make sure other side of my life still good.”
Jutanugarn has been feeling good in recent weeks, in part due to the recent uptick in her game. Her last three starts resulted in a second, a third and a fifth-place finish at last week’s Evian Championship. She’ll look to keep that momentum rolling this weekend in her quest to add a third major to her resume and return to the winner’s circle.
“When you have great week last week you feel good to come here and play, especially when you have good memory here and you know it’s another major and you felt like your game is getting better,” Jutanugarn said. “So, to me right now, even like back-to-back majors is okay for me.”
Woburn might not be ‘Ariya-proof’ after all.