Should players applaud their opponents in decisive moments? Here’s why the U.S. Women’s Open champ did

June 4, 2018

Ariya Jutanugarn’s victory at Shoal Creek Sunday was, in many ways, the most perfect theater that golf can provide. Seemingly cruising to the title, the 22-year-old came off the rails on the back nine, while Hyo Joo Kim polished off the most impressive round of the day, awaiting her chance to steal the trophy.

Anyone who watched surely enjoyed the affair, and they may also have been clued into a specific visual: Jutanugarn applauding successful shots made by Kim during their one-on-one playoff. Kim made some incredible shots down the stretch, perhaps the most significant being her first putt on the first playoff hole, a 30-footer for birdie. Cameras caught Jutanugarn applauding the shot.

Fox broadcaster Paul Azinger did not approve of the sportsmanship. In his day, he said, when players competed for major championships, you would not have seen them applauding a good shot from a competitor. Whether you agree with Azinger or not (and many on the Internet do not), Jutanugarn added some personal context during a Q&A this Monday morning.

“I normally do that,” Jutanugarn said. “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.”

Sounds like a healthy mindset from a 22-year-old. Is it altogether uncommon? We’ve seen similar displays of goodwill in tense moments. Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler, while playing together and chasing after Rory McIlroy at the 2014 PGA Championship, were famously seen fist-bumping during the final stretch on the back nine. That irked McIlroy in much the same way Azinger was irked. Again, whether his opinion has merit or not, many people chimed in on Twitter to voice their support for Jutanugarn.