A fitting reward for Ariya after she exorcises the ghosts of 2013

A fitting reward for Ariya after she exorcises the ghosts of 2013

Ariya Jutanugarn reacts after winning the Honda LPGA Thailand last Sunday. (AFP photo)
Ariya Jutanugarn reacts after winning the Honda LPGA Thailand last Sunday. (AFP photo)

Eight years ago, I witnessed one of the most heart-rending scenes you could ever imagine in a golf tournament.

Thailand's Ariya Jutanugarn, then 17 and playing in her first LPGA tournament as a professional, appeared to be poised for a fairytale victory on her home soil in front of thousands of adoring fans at Siam Country Club and millions more on television.

Given the massive expectations of the huge crowd at the 2013 Honda LPGA Thailand, Ariya had been under enormous pressure the entire round but she was bravely hanging in there. It finally got to her on the very last hole.

She held a two-shot lead at the 18th tee and a bogey would have been enough for the title. Alas, she suffered a triple-bogey meltdown, handing the title to South Korea's Park In-Bee.

A visibly distressed Ariya walked across the 18th green in front of the stunned spectators to be comforted by elder sister Moriya.

The two hugged tearfully in acutely emotional scenes. It was a heartbreaking moment and there was not a dry eye on the course.

Fast forward to last Sunday, the same course and tournament, and the two sisters were embracing again and the tears were flowing again, but these were thankfully tears of a very different nature … of joy and relief.

Ariya, now 25, had become the first Thai to win the home LPGA tournament.

She did it in style too, having begun the round five shots off the lead, she went on to shoot a magnificent nine-under 63.

It was also her first win in nearly three years, extinguishing those self-doubts that inevitably come after an extended poor run.

Her sense of relief was palpable when she said: "I'm proud of myself, especially after 2013. It's been a long time".

Ariya also praised her mental coaches, Pia Nilsson and Lyn Marriott, for keeping up her spirits when things were not going well.

Despite terrific performances from 18-year-old Atthaya Thitikul, who Ariya edged by one shot and Patty Tavatanakit a further shot behind, it was fitting that Ariya should be the first Thai to win this event.

Since that traumatic time eight years ago, Ariya, nicknamed "May," has gone on to win 11 LPGA tournaments including two majors, the 2016 Women's British Open and 2018 US Women's Open.

She has definitely flown the flag for Thailand in the best possible way and inspired so many Thai youngsters to take up the game.

Last week's tournament was also a triumph for Thai ladies golf.

Who could ever have envisaged the final leaderboard in an LPGA tournament having Thai players first, second and joint third?

Despite Ariya's success, it was hard not to feel sympathy for runner-up Atthaya who played brilliant golf throughout and at times looked like she might be the winner.

But the always cheerful 18-year-old from Ratchaburi took it well.

"This is a new experience, being so close to a win. I am proud of myself. I did the best I could," she said.

In fact, Atthaya, nickname "Jeen," enjoyed two wins on the Ladies European Tour as an amateur and last year won five times on the Thai professional tour.

You can be sure more victories are on the way.

Patty, fresh from last month's terrific major win at the ANA Inspiration, her first LPGA title, also put on a fine performance to finish joint third and looks a wonderful prospect.

She had started the final round of the Honda tournament with a one-shot lead but could not quite maintain her very high standards and eventually had settle for a two-under 70.

"I just didn't hit it great today," said Patty, whose Thai name is Paphangkorn.

"I played eight rounds in Asia [four in the Singapore, where she also finished joint third] and I shot under par in all of them. I'm still pretty proud of myself."

At the age of 21, Patty now leads the Thais in the world rankings, holding 11th place, while Ariya moves up to 21st with Moriya 41st.

Jasmine (Thidapa) Suwannapura is in 85th place while Atthaya moves up to 133rd and will surely be in the top 100 very soon.

Thailand could not have asked for a better performance from their golfers last week. Hopefully they will get the support they deserve in the coming events.

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