By Lerpong Amsa-ngaim - The Nation
World No 2 Ariya Jutanugarn would like to convert the pressure of playing at home into motivation as she carries the hopes of the nation into the US$1.6-million Honda LPGA Thailand, which starts this morning at the par-72, 6,642-yard Siam Country Club Pattaya Old Course.
All eyes will be on the Thai star, who took the world by storm last year by winning five LPGA titles which propelled her to the Player of the Year award. A huge turnout is expected at this year’s edition as local enthusiasts fervently hope to see a first home-grown winner at the tournament, which is celebrating its 11th anniversary.
With a load of expectation on her shoulders, the 21-year-old is likely to put in her maximum effort against 69 other competitors, including the world No 1 Lydia Ko.
“Having more people coming to watch me play and expecting a lot from me will make it more fun and challenging for me. But in the end I still have to focus on what I have to do and try to enjoy my golf game,” said Ariya, one of seven Thais in action this week.
Ariya is in her third event of the year, after finishing tied 47th in Bahamas and tied third last week in Australia. The Thai is slowly getting into top form after taking a break from golf for almost two months.
“I feel more confident after Australia. In Bahamas, it was my first tournament after the off-season so I took it as a tune-up event. The greens are quite tricky here so I have to play bump-and-run shots,” said the youngster.
Also carrying the local fans’ hopes this week is Thai No 2 Pornanong Phatlum, who has posted top-10
finishes in all three events that she has entered this year.
“With all the injuries gone this year and my mental game getting better, I have been playing with more confidence at the moment. I would love to win my first title at home but to finish among the top 10 is my priority this week,” said Pornanong, whose best result in Pattaya was a tied 12th last year.
World No 1 Ko is back at the resort city for the first time since settling for tied 19th in 2014. The New Zealander is trying to regain top form after managing to finish inside the top 10 in just two of her eight events. She started her season at the Australian Open last week and had to be content with joint 46th position.
“I actually struck the ball pretty well last week, but I was struggling to read the greens. That way I really wasn’t making that many birdies. When you’re in that kind of state it’s really hard to try and shoot a low score, but hopefully I can keep the ball striking up and hole a few more putts this week,’ said Ko, one of the few favourites to win the event this week apart from Ariya.
“What Ariya has been doing is great. I think she has the confidence where I think she is going to continue to play well. She’s always putting herself in good positions and in contention, and winning quite a few too,” Ko said.
Since winning the Olympics gold for South Korea, Park In-bee has taken time off, preferring to rest her thumb until this week.
“Once I get into a couple of tournaments I should be able to know what I need to work on and what I’m doing great on. So just taking couple of tournaments, one tournament at time, and trying to warm up and get the feel of the tournament again. I haven’t felt that for a long time,” the 2013 champion said.