MIAMI (AFP) – World number one Ariya Jutanugarn of Thailand will try to follow up on a season where she swept the awards when the 2019 Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) campaign tees off today in Florida.
The Tournament of Champions at Lake Buena Vista features celebrities and winners from last season in a new event, but the 23-year-old from Bangkok comes in as a favourite after taking a break with family on the beaches of southern Thailand.
“I feel a little bit still tired, but getting a lot better. Feel fresh. Something new,” Ariya said.
Ariya split with last year’s caddie, Les Luark, and now has bagman Daniel Taylor, the fiancee of LPGA rival Pernilla Lindberg.
“So far pretty good in the last two days. I like him a lot,” Ariya said. “He really always has a good attitude, really helps me.”
Also working on her game are long-time coaches Lynn Marriott and Pia Nilsson. Ariya has asked them to get her back to a 2016 mentality when she felt more free with her swing and game.
“I didn’t have worries. I’m not scared about the outcome at all, and I don’t have that feeling for, like, two years already,” Ariya said. “But how can I go back to have that feeling? So we’re just working on that.
“At that time, everything was so new for me. I just took some lessons with Pia and Lynn about playing golf, commitment, everything, and I feel so fresh that time. But I’ve been doing that for so long, I didn’t feel like it’s fresh anymore. I didn’t have that good commitment so I just feel like I have to do something fresh, try to learn every day.”
She intends to hit more drivers this season, but that also means working on her wedge game.
“If I’m going to hit driver, I have to work on my wedge,” Ariya said. “My wedge has to get better, then I feel more comfortable to hit driver. I feel a lot better. I’ve been working on wedge the last two weeks.”
And she also wants to see more success from her 20th-ranked sister Moriya, who won her first LPGA crown last year to join Ariya in the champions-only opener.
“I feel great that she won her first tournament last year, and it means so much to me because all we do is work on just trying to reach our goal,” Ariya said. “Our goal is not only seeing me win a tournament but also seeing my sister win.”
Also in the hunt at the start is New Zealand’s 14th-ranked Lydia Ko, who enjoys the celebrity atmosphere.
“This is a very unique event for us. We don’t get that many opportunities to meet other athletes or celebrities and actors. So this is, I think, a really cool experience,” Ko said.
She spent her first Christmas at her home in nearby Orlando after a December trip last year to South Korea.
“It’s a little shorter off-season than what you would like, but I think this is such a cool startup to our season,” Ko said.
“We’ve got a few more weeks before the Australian swing. It has been busy, but it has been fun. If it was this much traveling but this much fun, I think I would do it again.”