Thai golfer Ariya Jutanugarn earns world number one ranking

Sinking a 25-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole to win the Manulife LPGA Classic in Canada, last Sunday, Thai golfer Ariya Jutanugarn took home more than a trophy and a significant payday – she walked away with the world number one ranking in women’s golf, displacing Lydia Ko of New Zealand, and inspiring young Thai athletes in all sports.

Thais showed their pride in the new number one, flooding her Facebook page with congratulatory messages while most major newspapers placed her photo prominently on their front pages. “May is the world’s No. 1, she has made history for Thai golfers,” Thairath, the country’s largest selling newspaper, said in its headline, referring to Ariya by her nickname.

Ariya is the first Thailand-born golfer, male or female, to attain a world number one ranking. She had briefly, and mistakenly, been named number one the previous week until the LPGA recalculated its ranking points and concluded she was still 0.01 points behind Ko, who had held the title for 85 consecutive weeks. Ariya’s come-from-behind win at Manulife secured her the top ranking without question. At 21 years and six months old, she is the second-youngest female golfer to reach the top of the rankings.

“It means the world to me,”to be the first Thai world number one, Ariya told “We get to show the world that Thai people can do it. It’s been a long road getting to this spot, but it will be even more challenging from this point on.”

She vowed to work even harder to retain the top ranking. “I don’t see this as mission complete. It is just the beginning,” she said.

Ariya’s “celebration plans are quite tame,’’ wrote, the website of Golf Digest magazine. “She says she’ll be texting her sister, Moriya, and getting some sleep in the car as she and her caddie drive to Grand Rapids, Michigan, for next week’s LPGA event.”

Sister Moriya Jutanugarn is ranked number 46 in the world. The two sisters began leaning golf at the age of five. Their father opened an equipment shop at a golf driving range in Bangkok. Worried that his young daughters would disturb the duffers practicing their driving, he gave the girls small clubs to play with, and they immediately took to the game.

By their teens their talent was evident. But to fund their travels and participation in amateur and eventually professional tour events, their father sold their house and car to raise the cash. It was a worthwhile investment, as Ariya has now earned $3.9 million in prize money, while Moriya has come home with $1.6 million.

Photo courtesy of Moriya & Ariya Jutanugarn’s Facebook