According to a study by Global Odds Index in 2021, the odds of becoming a top tier female golfer in Thailand are 1 in 92,670 or as I like to put it ‘extremely slim’. So, imagine the odds of two sisters not only becoming elite golfers, but also winning on the LPGA Tour multiple times.
Moriya and Ariya Jutanugarn have done just that over the years. The duo’s 15 wins, which includes two Majors, on the LPGA Tour make them the most successful golfing siblings of all time, beating the likes of Nelly and Jessica Korda as well as Francesco and Edoardo Molinari.
The sisters are as synonymous with golf in Thailand as Hideki Matsuyama is with the sport in Japan. They are adored across the country with their faces all over billboard and TV adverts. There’s even a Netflix special about Ariya’s development into the first Thai golfer, male or female, to win a Major Championship and reach No. 1 in the World Ranking.
“There’s no secret to our success,” said Ariya. “When you start to love this game, I feel like you can put everything into it and do everything for that. I think that’s a key to be successful. You have to be happy first, and then as soon as you’re happy you can do whatever.”
Moriya added: “I agree with what Ariya said. You have to love it. You have to love the game, and when you love it, you really want it. When it’s become your dream, you just want to do everything to reach your goal and your dream.”
The superstar sisters play golf and live life differently, but their goals remain the same – to be the very best out on the course.
“We try to help each other a lot, but also we’re really competitive,” said Ariya. “When we practice I want to beat her, and she wants to beat me. Some tournaments it’s like I’m going to play better than you, before we go out, and I’m like, if I beat you today you have to something, but that’s kind of like for fun. I think most of the time we help each other because I feel like no one understands me more than my sister, so that helps.”
Moriya added: “It’s not like helping, it’s like support. You know, to play, to be a golfer, a professional golfer, you’re on the road all the time, travelling a lot, and you’re not always home. I feel like when you have support from who you love or who is really close to you, it’s very important. I think I I’m very lucky having her support on the road because our careers are pretty much the same, we do the same thing, we play professional golf, so if I need help or I need someone to talk to, no one is going to understand me more than my sister for sure.”
Gender pay gap
Much has been made of the gender pay gap between in sport for a long time and for good reason. A recent study by the BBC showed worrying findings around golf’s gender pay gap, especially compared to other sports with golf highlighted as one of the three sports lagging behind in the gap between winnings paid to men and women.
The sisters have accumulated $16.3 million between them over their careers on the LPGA Tour with 15 first prize cheques contributing towards that total. In comparison, the Molinari brothers have been paid a total of $18.59 million from the PGA Tour with just three wins between the duo. A number of Tours have tried to correct this in recent years with the inclusion of mixed events with the same prize on offer for both men and women, including next month’s Scandinavian Mixed, which is co-sanctioned by the Ladies European Tour and DP World Tour.
“Of course, I would like to see more of these events, because I feel like we work hard, and I know the guys work hard, but we also work really hard!” said Ariya. “Right now, I think women’s golf is getting better and better because lots of people are trying to support and help us. You can see the changes that are being made to keep our game moving up – I really appreciate that.
A big supporter of women’s golf right now is both Aramco and Golf Saudi, who kickstart their 2022 Aramco Team Series in Bangkok later this month. The first team event series of its kind on any professional tour takes place across three continents, with five tournaments offering prize funds of $1 million – one of the highest on the Ladies European Tour schedule.
Using a unique draft system, team captains will pick one pro teammate, before being allocated a third via a random draw. Completing each team will be one amateur golfer. As well as competing for the team trophy, the professionals will also vie for an individual title, offering Rolex Rankings and Solheim Cup ranking points, and will be part of the Race to Costa del Sol Official Rankings.
“I feel really excited to see all the fans in Thailand at the Team Series event,” said Ariya. “We always feel the support from the fans that they’ve been giving to us since we played in Thailand like 10 years ago. I just feel like it’s really home-home. You feel home all the time when you play in Thailand. They just keep showing you the support. That moment can’t get away.
Moriya added: “Yeah, it’s the same feeling for me. When you play in Thailand, it’s exciting seeing all the fans that have given us support since we were young and of course it’s nice seeing friends and family, who come and support us at the tournament. It’s stuff like this that makes us feel at home.”
Close to quitting
Moriya will be hoping to follow in her sisters’ footsteps by winning on home soil after Ariya secured her 11th LPGA Tour title at last year’s Honda LPGA Thailand, beating compatriot Atthaya Thitikul by one stroke. For the first time in 1,015 days, Ariya held a trophy once again, making it all the more special that she did so in her homeland, but she also revealed shortly after that she had seriously considered quitting the game following her trophy drought. So, how is the mindset now?
“I’ll always have a bit of a struggle with my game, but I feel like it’s kind of just another challenge for me because my golf is always up and down,” said Ariya.
“The challenge is how I’m going to get myself back to where I want to be or be in a position to be able to play well. I think it’s kind of fun. The outcome is not always what you want, but I wake up with my little goals every day, what I’m going to do to make myself proud today to reach my bigger goals.
“So, I think I’m kind of in that way right now. Of course, I’m not my best right now, but it’s just trying to improve myself every day.”
The first challenge that both will have to address at Thai Country Club is which player to pick in the draft if, as expected, they are both chosen as captains in a field that includes Charley Hull and Dubai resident Chiara Noja. With no opportunity to pick one another, what does each sister think the other can offer a team?
“If you’re going to have Ariya as a teammate you have to make sure you have a lot of patience,” chuckled Moriya. “Out there it could be really fun or it’s going to be like crazy golf!”
Ariya added: “Moriya’s really consistent. If you really want to go for it you’re going to have a good teammate because she’ll have your back. She’s not going to really make many bogeys. She always knows how to get up-and-down from pretty tough situations and she’s really consistent. I think that’s the really best thing from her. So, I think if you have her in your team then you’re not going to have to worry about anything, just play your own golf game.”
The pair will continue what they’ve always done when they step on the tee for the first Team Series event of the year – inspire. With the likes of compatriots Patty Tavatanakit and Atthaya Thitikul rising through the ranks over the last few years, the sisters may not yet be the country’s top sportswoman but they’re certainly the most celebrate