A winning smile
An attitude adjustment helps transform Thai Ariya into a Major champion
In the past 12 months, Ariya Jutanugarn has gone from missing 10 straight cuts to winning her first Major.
The secret to the Thai's turnaround? Being nicer to herself and learning how to smile on the greens.
That is how the 20-year-old became the first golfer from her country to lift a Major title after winning the Women's British Open at Woburn Golf Club yesterday morning (Singapore time).
She finished three strokes clear of South Korea's Lee Mirim and American Mo Martin with a 16-under total of 272.
At the same tournament last year, Ariya failed to qualify for the final two rounds for the 10th consecutive tournament.
It wasn't supposed to pan out this way for a player destined for stardom.
At 11, Ariya became the youngest player to qualify for an LPGA event.
When she turned pro in 2012, she was ranked No. 2 in the world amateur rankings, behind only current world No. 1 Lydia Ko.
But, a year later, Ariya suffered a shoulder injury while chasing her sister Moriya, a fellow LPGA Tour player, and trying to spray water on her before an event.
After her win yesterday, the player nicknamed "May", said: "Everything in the past was good for me because I learned from it, especially when I missed 10 cuts in a row.
"I know how to come back, I know how to be patient.
"Everybody is going to have bad times in their life and I think I have had that already."
The bad times were so brutal that the world No. 2 was scared to hit the ball. Then Ariya had an attitude adjustment and learned how to be nice to herself.
At the KPMG Women's PGA Championship in June, she said: "Right now, I am really happy; no matter what the result (of a shot), I'm just very happy with it.
"The only thing I have to do, is I have to be nice to myself, and not complain about every single shot."
The Thai had every right to complain when she finished fourth in the year's first Major - the ANA Inspiration - after leading by two shots with three holes to play.
Instead, she turned to her swing coach Gary Gilchrist and golf coaches Lynn Marriott and Pia Nilsson.
They concluded that under pressure, the world No. 2 sped up her routine, leading to more tension and tightness in her body.
Her coaching team tried several "triggers" to control her game before arriving at the solution - smiling.
"May is so cute, her big smile is obvious," Nilsson said.
"Really, though, it's not about the smile. It's about how she feels inside that's important. When we tried the smile, she said, 'That's me'."
Said Ariya: "I'm pretty sure I learned a lot from that (the ANA Inspiration) because when I feel nervous now, I know what to do.
"The last few holes here I tried to be patient and to commit to my shots."
A month after the ANA Inspiration in April, which Ko won, the Thai became the first player on the LPGA Tour to get her first three wins in consecutive events.
Said Ko: "I think it's been amazing. We all know she's a great player, so it's always good to see her doing so well. And especially with her being such a nice person, too."
Tour veteran Christina Kim added: "She's going to be unstoppable... She's only scratched the surface of what she could become."
What she became yesterday morning was the winner of one of golf's most prestigious trophies.
Describing the pre-shot routine that has helped her turn multiple missed cuts into a Major moment, Ariya said: "I really want to try to feel relaxed and I feel like what is going to make me happy is to smile."
In Woburn, it proved to be a winning smile. - Wire Services.
Ariya shows us all you can go through tough times in life, but you can come back.
— Swing coach Gary Gilchrist on his charge Ariya Jutanugarn