“Iron Lady” Ariya wins golf’s U.S. Open in gritty comeback

It was a win for the ages. Ariya Jutanugarn became the first Thai golfer to capture the crown at the women’s United States Open, taking the title in a gritty four-hole playoff after losing a seven-shot lead on the final day.

Ariya’s comeback victory catapulted her into the world number two ranking, while another young and talented Thai, Patty Tavatanakit, added more hope for the Kingdom’s golfing future as she was awarded the gold medal for the top finish by an amateur at the Open.

“I want to inspire all the kids in Thailand,” Ariya said in recounting what was on her mind as she headed into the playoff after what might have been an epic collapse had she not rallied and rebounded to win the championship.

Ariya is gaining a reputation as the “Iron Lady” of golf, both for her steely demeanor and determination – she betrayed little emotion as her lead slipped away during the final round – and for the fact that she carries 12 irons in her bag and plays without a driver, the wood club that provides the greatest distance. Most players carry nine or perhaps ten irons.

Though her face was expressionless, she said she was seething inside after losing the lead and finishing in a tie at the end of the regulation 72 holes. She had shot an 11-under par 277 over the four days, but carded a one-over par 73 in a bogey-filled final round.

“I kind of got mad. But I thought: ‘OK, if I have a play-off I’m going to make sure I do my best [on] every shot because I feel like I didn’t commit over that back nine.’ I felt like I had a last chance to make myself proud,” Ariya said.

But she was all smiles and joy after sinking a birdie putt on the 18th green to edge out Hyo-Joo Kim of South Korea after four playoff holes. Family and friends rushed the green and embraced the beaming 22-year old golfing sensation.

The victory was her second major title, having prevailed at the Women’s British Open in 2016, and her ninth win on the Ladies Professional Gold Association (LPGA) tour since she joined the circuit in 2015.

Peaks and valleys marked Ariya’s first three years on the tour. She attained the world number one ranking last year, but then missed several cuts.

“After she become world number one last time she struggled,” her older sister Moriya, also a winner on the LPGA tour, said. “I think she was just young and she didn’t really handle it that well. I’m pretty sure next time she will do it better. She will learn a lot from last time.”

This season, Ariya has been a model of consistency. She is the only player to make the cut in all 14 LPGA tournaments so far this year, winning twice and finishing in the top ten eight times.