As first wins go, Moriya Jutanugarn’s maiden victory at the 2018 HUGEL-AIR PREMIA LA Open stuck with fans longer than most. Perhaps it was because the older of the two Jutanugarn siblings had never displayed a smidgen of jealousy as her kid sister Ariya became a major champion and vaulted to No.1 in the Rolex Rankings. In fact, “Mo” as Moriya is known on tour, was the biggest cheerleader and advocate for Ariya (who goes by “May”). Before May was fluent enough to answer a simple question or two in English, Mo stepped up, often standing in front of the younger but bigger sister as if to protect her.
Maybe it was the openness that the entire family showed from the moment they arrived on the scene. Their mother, Narumon, has traveled with the sisters from the beginning, eight years now, and is supportive in all the right ways. They can be found most tournament weeks at a local Thai or sushi restaurant and if you need a dining recommendation, the Jutanugarns are happy to help. They are funny, genuine, kind people, easy to root for in sport and in life.
Mo is a gem, quick with a broad, bright smile and happy to oblige almost any request, which was one of the reasons her victory in Los Angeles held such emotional sway over those who saw it. She had played well on many occasions, coming close time and again. Runner up finishes in China and Arkansas in 2017; top-3s in Portland and Evian, 11 top-10s in 2017 alone, followed by another runner-up early in 2018 in her home country of Thailand, a T6 at the ANA Inspiration and a top-10 finish at the LOTTE Championship in Hawaii before heading to LA.
“I remember before that tournament, I’d been playing well for a while,” Mo told LPGA.com. “But every time I had a chance on Sunday, I was always nervous or excited, filled with different emotions. But that week it was a little different in that we teed off on Sunday in threesomes, which was different. Whatever it was, I wasn’t excited or nervous. I woke up that morning with a sense of calm, more than any other week.”
Playing with Jin Young Ko, with whom she was tied at the end of three rounds, and Inbee Park, who began the final round two shots back, Jutanugarn smiled her way through a sunny California Sunday. Her first and only hiccup came on the 16th when she failed to get up and down. By the time she got the par-3 18th, with Wilshire members, other LPGA Tour players and the Jutanugarn family watching on the terrace, Mo hit a fine tee shot to 30 feet. A two-putt par was all she needed to win by two.
When the final putt fell, her sister, mother and many of her fellow pros were in tears.
“I wanted to win but I didn’t obsess on it,” Mo said. “There was a total sense of calm. It just happened. I woke up every morning (that week) feeling calmer than any other week. It’s not like I didn’t think about winning or didn’t want to win. Of course, I did. But for some reason that entire week I was able to put outcome and results aside and just remain calm and in the process.”
Two years later, she has a great perspective.
“Your first win is always seared in your memory,” Mo said. “You might forget other things but the first is always the best memory. I used to live in LA before moving to Florida. That made me feel even more special because I had more friends in LA than I might have had somewhere else. We always have the three of us traveling but to have all those friends there, it was really special.
“In hindsight, I really like courses like Wilshire Country Club because it’s narrow and strategic. Super wide-open courses are not good for me because I lose focus. Having tight fairways and small targets helps me focus because every shot is a challenge. You need a good game plan and you need to execute that plan. I’m not the type of player who can overpower a golf course. That’s not my style. You have to manage your game at Wilshire and that fits well into my style of play.”
She also has a different outlook going forward, informed by the victory and the lessons she learned in Wilshire.
“I now internalize my expectations and I own my own goals,” she said. “As players we have to understand what it means not to play for the expectations of others but to set your own goals and work on them naturally from within, not without. Obviously, when others say, ‘You’re a great player, you’re going to win,’ that’s a wonderful thing. I like that. But that is external. Internal goals, living with your own expectations and management of yourself, that’s what has to work. It worked for me (in LA).”
With that mindset, no one will be surprised when more victories come for Mo Jutanugarn.