ST ANDREWS, United Kingdom: Ariya Jutanugarn may be fighting a cold but memories of her women’s British Open win are keeping her warm as she prepares for her title defense this week at Kingsbarns.
The 21-year-old from Thailand won the major title by three shots over the tree-lined Woburn course —and she knows she faces a vastly different challenge at the wind swept Scottish links.
But one thing won’t change from 12 months ago. The driver will not be in the bag.
The powerful youngster didn’t use the golfer’s biggest weapon last year and she said: “This time it will also stay in the locker. I’ll be using my three wood and my two iron from the tee.
“This is only my third time at a links course. But I know I’ll have to keep the ball low and sometimes aim 50 yards right or 40 yards left.”
Jutanugarn spent a brief spell as the world No.1 when she won the Manulife LPGA Classic in Cambridge, Ontario last month.
But she has since struggled slightly with a shoulder injury and has dropped to No.3 behind Ryu So Yeon and Lexi Thompson.
“It’s getting better, but I’ve now got a terrible cold,” she said, coughing and spluttering. “It started Saturday and has got worse.”
She admits her life has changed dramatically since becoming the first Thai golfer to win a major.
“Everyone back home is very proud,” she said. “I won an award at the end of the year and now everyone knows me.”
This is her first visit to St Andrews, the Scottish town regarded as the Home of Golf. But her sister Moriya, who played in the Women’s British Open over the Old Course four years ago, has been the perfect tour guide.
“It is a very special place and it’s cool to be here,” said the five-time LPGA winner. “My sister took me round the 17th and 18th at the Old Course. It was everything that I expected.”
Olympic champion Park Inbee won the title, and completed a career Grand Slam of the majors, at Turnberry two years ago, and is aiming to make it a Scottish double.
She missed last year’s Open due to injury, but bounced back to win Olympic gold in Rio.
“It’s good to be back,” admitted the 29-year-old South Korean. “I played in the Scottish Open at Dundonald last week and took a trip back to Turnberry. I had some great memories.
“My ball striking is not where I want it to be, but I always love the challenge of a links course. Sometimes I play well, and sometimes I don’t get it. It’s a mind set. You have to be prepared to be frustrated.”
The seven-time major winner spent over a year as world No 1 in 2013/2014, but she is currently at No.10.
The Rio experience has helped elevate her status.
“People in restaurants and gas stations say they know me because of the Olympics,” she revealed.
“It was an incomparable experience. Something completely different and it ranks right up there with the very best that I have achieved.”