By THE NATION
Nine holes later, that advantage had totally evaporated. The Thai needed four play-off holes to defeat Kim Hyo-joo and cement perhaps the biggest mental comeback in her professional career.
“I played absolutely great on the front nine. It was unbelievable. I felt like I’m never going to play that good again,” said Ariya when asked about that day in Alabama.
“And then at the turn on No 10, all I’m thinking about [is] I have a seven-shot lead. I’m going to keep the seven-shot lead until the last hole. It should be easy for me to win the tournament. But that’s not a good way to think about that.”
Ariya’s win 12 months ago was among the most memorable moments in LPGA history. Today, she’s in Charleston to defend her title, along with 11 other past US Women’s Open champions – Na Yeon Choi (2012), In Gee Chun (2015), Paula Creamer (2010), Laura Davies (1987), Ji Eun-hee (2009), Cristie Kerr (2007), Brittany Lang (2016), Inbee Park (2008, 2013), Sung Hyun Park (2017), So Yeon Ryu (2011) and Karrie Webb (2000, 2001).
Ariya is still looking for her first victory of the 2019 season. So far it’s been a quiet season for the 23-year-old from Thailand, who has just two top-10 finishes to her name but hasn’t missed a single cut in her 11 tournament appearances. She is ready for the challenge of Charleston’s Country Club course, a Seth Raynor design that’s much trickier than it appears to the naked eye.
“The first few holes … I feel like actually, it’s pretty wide open. So it might be not that tough,” said Ariya, who starts her title defence at 8.06am local time (7.06pm Thai time) today. “But then when you keep playing and you see some holes out there, like short par 4, it’s really narrow. You have to put your ball in the right spot.”
Ariya will tee off on the 10th hole alongside 2017 US Women’s Open champion Park Sung-hyun and leading American Lexi Thompson.