‘I just tried to smile and be happy’: How Ariya Jutanugarn overcame a near-historic collapse to win the U.S. Women’s Open

June 4, 2018

History was very nearly made Sunday at the U.S. Women’s Open at Shoal Creek.

But not in a good way.

Ariya Jutanugarn, Thailand’s newest superstar, made the turn with a seven-shot lead, well on her way to her second major victory. Then she triple-bogeyed the 10th hole and limped her way to a back-nine 41. Her shocking stumble opened the door for Hyo Joo Kim of Korea, who played bogey-free golf to set up a two-hole playoff with Jutanugarn. But Jutanugarn, 22, refused to let her back-nine slide go down in infamy.

On the fourth hole of the playoff, facing a downhill lie in a greenside bunker, she hit perhaps the best bunker shot of her life to two feet and tapped-in for the title.

Just 15 hours after her win, Jutanugarn spoke to GOLF.com about her rollercoaster week.

First off, congratulations. Did you get much sleep last night?

[Laughs] Not much. I went to dinner with my family last night. It was a lot of fun just having dinner afterward with all my friends and family.

It was a weird week for you and many players down in Alabama. Your golf clubs didn’t arrive on time. You were only able to play nine holes of practice at the course because of torrential rain. What’d you do for practice to stay loose?

On Monday, I didn’t do anything. I walked nine holes on the front nine. I tried to putt a little bit. But Tuesday, I didn’t do anything either. Just laid back on my bed and watched [TV] dramas.

Well, most people know the story now. It appeared like you were going to just run away with the tournament. Seven-shot lead after 63 holes…then the back nine happened.

I had been playing so good on the front nine. Hole 10 really got me. I missed my tee shot and made a 7. After that I just didn’t feel comfortable hitting my tee shots. I didn’t hit three-wood because I missed with it on 10. I kept hitting my two-iron [off the tee], so I couldn’t really be aggressive.

What does that feel like in that moment when all of a sudden one club doesn’t feel comfortable?

It’s hard, because after 10 it felt like I couldn’t hit three-wood anymore. I needed to do something to make myself have a good chance to play good golf. Also, my caddie had been helping me a lot by telling me I didn’t have to hit three-wood and that I could hit two-iron. We could play good by hitting two-iron off the tee.

Another part of this was that Hyo Joo Kim was making a run directly in front of you. She curled in a crazy putt on the 15th hole and you had to watch it from the fairway.

I was really happy for her when she made the putt. When I saw it, I thought, That’s so cool. Even if I wasn’t going to make my putt, I was still really happy for her.

You seemed loose. You were smiling and talking with your caddie the whole time. You didn’t look nervous — were you?

It’s tough for me. I’m not that calm at all, so I just tried to smile and be happy. The U.S. Open is one of the biggest tournaments and I wanted to really enjoy myself as much as I can.

Was there anything you and your caddie discussed frequently throughout the round?

My goal before the final round was just to commit to every shot and not think about the outcome. I did a pretty good job of that on the front nine. Then on the back nine I started to think about the outcome, think about if I made bogey, and how then everything would be worse. My caddie just helped me get back to not thinking about the outcome, stick with my process and being under control.

One thing that people saw during the playoff was that you applauded your opponent for various shots she hit. Paul Azinger, speaking on the Fox broadcast, didn’t seem to understand why you would do that.

I normally do that. When you see a good shot, it’s just a good shot. There’s nothing you can do about that. I just have to do my best. I’m rooting for everyone because if I’m going to win the tournament, I don’t want to win because another player didn’t play good. I want to win a tournament when she plays good and I play good.

That bunker shot you hit. Is that a top five shot of your life? How tough was it?

Yeah, it is. Right now, I’m really confident with bunker shots. It was a pretty tough shot, downhill and [breaking] right to left a lot. But when I got in the bunker, I don’t know, somehow I felt like, I’ve got this shot. I saw the shot, I saw where I wanted to land it. I felt really confident with it.

It was definitely the biggest check you’ve ever won on a golf course. Any idea on what you’ll be buying as a treat for yourself?

I don’t have a plan yet, but I might go to Disney World, because I have off this week. [Laughs]