The turning point for the Jutanugarn sisters came when they realized there was no turning point. The key that unlocked golf’s secrets fell into their hands when they grasped that the game doesn’t begin on the first tee and end on 18th green. To be a great player, they believe, you must first be a happy person, a giving person. In the children of Thailand, Ariya and Moriya Jutanugarn found a reason to pursue greatness.
Ask Ariya and Moriya about their goals and they both say: “To be a happy golfer.” And through the bumps and bruises of life as a professional golfer they have learned that happiness is not a destination but rather a goal endlessly pursued. As a new season begins, the path they travel together seem as magical as Dorothy’s yellow brick road.
The Jutanugarns are home this week for the Honda LPGA Thailand with Ariya – known to her friends as May – No. 1 in the Rolex Rankings and Moriya – who goes by Mo – No. 18. Mo, 24, is a year older than May, several inches shorter and a little more outgoing, although both are shy by nature. But in each other they have a sisterly support system that is a winning combination.
May won everything the LPGA has to offer in 2018: Rolex Player of the Year, Vare Trophy for scoring average, the Race to the CME Globe $1 million bonus, the money title, the Rolex Annika Major Award for best performance in the majors and had the U.S. Women’s Open among the three victories that gave her 10 overall in her career.
Mo, meanwhile, picked up her first LPGA victory at the 2018 Hugel-JTBC LA Open and if you want to know the depth of the bond between the sisters, when May was asked her brightest memory of last year she said it was Mo getting her first win. “I think it’s No. 1,” May said, fighting back tears. “I feel like she’s the one that always works hard, never gives up.”
Ask Mo about that victory and you get even more insight into the special perspective of these two. “I got my first win and got into the world top 10,” Mo told GGP. “These were my goals coming into 2018. But when I achieved them, I learned that nothing was different than before. I did not feel anything special.”
“They have very strong unconditional love and support of each other.” – Lynn Marriott
She did, however, uncover a feeling more special than winning. “I figured that I enjoyed everything I do to get there. I enjoy the process. The plan, the practice, the gym, working with my coaches. Those are very enjoyable to me. I will just keep enjoying all the process to become a better golfer.”
And when May talks about building on her phenomenal 2018, she points not toward achieving goals but to pursuing goals. “I will just work towards reaching my full potential,” she told GGP. “I want to be proud of myself every day. That’s my goal. I want to be the best player I can be and reach my full potential. I learned that playing my best and finishing top 20 feels better than playing badly and finishing top 10.”
Thanks to their two longest-serving coaches, Lynn Marriott and Pia Nilsson, who teach the Vision54 peak-performance philosophy, the Jutanugarns have a mental approach similar to the Buddhism followed by 95 percent of the Thai people. It’s not about the destination, but rather the journey.
“May has a more clear purpose why she wants to be that good – to support the children of Thailand,” Marriott said in an interview conducted while she and Nilsson were on their way to a vacation in the Galápagos Islands. Last year, the sisters launched a foundation to help needy children and families in their homeland.
“Mo’s win was huge for her,” Nilsson said. “After winning, it has taken her awhile to find the deep drive and motivation again. But being with her at the end of 2018 and in Orlando (for the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions), her drive and confidence is getting very good momentum.”
Working with Vision54 – which derives its name from the idea that if you birdie every hole you’d shoot 54 on a par-72 course – the Jutanugarns have forged a team that focuses less on the mechanics of golf and more on its magic. They don’t learn how to play swing but rather how to play golf.
Chris Mayson works on swing technique, but neither May nor Mo likes to over-focus on that. Gareth Raflewski is their short game coach and his influence was evident in May’s up-and-down game, bunker play and putting late in her U.S. Women’s Open victory. They have also started working on fitness with Greg Rose of the Titleist Performance Institute.
The one hiccup for May has been deciding on a caddie. After picking up eight of her 10 wins with Les Luark, she switched to Daniel Taylor for just the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions and now has Tim Butler, who looped for David Lingmerth in last year’s Players Championship. But if that’s the only hitch she has it is minor indeed.
Marriott and Nilsson say the sibling bond is a big part of May and Mo’s success. “They have very strong unconditional love and support of each other,” Marriott said. “They have traveled and lived together for many years. It’s super solid with being happy for each other, encouraging each other, being honest with each other, allowing each other to be different.”
When May and Mo talk about golf it is always about more than the game. Usually, it’s about their love of each other; their concern for the children of Thailand; and about playing at golf not winning at golf. They believe if you take care of the playing the winning will take care of itself. So far, that seems to be working nicely.
Ariya Jutanugarn, left, watching Moriya Jutanugarn putt during a practice round before the 2017 U.S. Women’s Open. Photo: Chris Keane, Copyright USGA
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