2016 was a momentous year for Titleist golf ball loyalist Ariya Jutanugarn (Pro V1x). Competing in just her second season on tour, Jutanugarn captured her maiden victory at the Yokohama Tire LPGA Classic, making history as the LPGA Tour's first champion from Thailand. She went on to win four more times, topping the LPGA money list, rising to the No. 1 player in the world and earning Rolex Player of the Year honors. But in a year filled with memories that will last her a lifetime, the highlight of Jutanugarn's season came last August, when she captured her first major title at the Ricoh Women's British Open.
"After my first tournament on Tour," Jutanugarn said, "my goal (was) to win a major, and I did, so I'm very proud. I think it's really important for me and for Thai golf, also.”
The 20-year-old will be defending her major crown in Fife, Scotland this week, as Kingsbarns Golf Links hosts its first Women's British Open. Along with St. Andrews and Carnoustie, Kingsbarns is one of the three host courses for the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, a popular pro-am event on the European Tour schedule.
This week the women will play the course at 6,697 yards, par-72. Though golf had been played at Kingsbarns as far back as the late 18th century, the course was mined during WWII in the interest of national security and it quickly reverted to rough pastureland. Golf was resurrected on Kingsbarns Links in 2000, with a new seaside layout designed by Mark Parsinnen and Kyle Phillips. It's the only Scottish course to be built on links land in over 70 years and should present a thorough test of skill in every aspect of the game for players this week.
Weather will certainly factor into the challenge presented by Kingsbarns and the players got a taste of true links conditions as wind and rain swept through Fife earlier this week. Jutanugarn, for one, seemed ready to embrace the added degree of difficulty.
"I really like the course," Jutanugarn said after a Tuesday practice round. "Really challenging, and I think it's going to be really tough. If the wind picks up, I think it's going to be very hard."
Jutanugarn said that this is only her third or fourth experience playing links golf and it will require a different strategy.
"It's (going to be) hard for me to defend on what I did before," said Jutanugarn, comparing her game plan to the approach she used at Woburn Golf and Country Club last year. "I have to do a lot of things I've never done before, so I have to make sure to keep the ball low and have to aim like 50 yards right or 40 yards left. I think this week I'm going to use more 3-woods and 2-irons."
Best of luck in defending your title, Ariya, and good luck to all of Team Titleist this week in Scotland!
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FAST FACT: The Women's British Open was established in 1976 by the Ladies' Golf Union, the governing body for women's and girls' amateur golf in Great Britain. At first, it was difficult for the organizers to get the most prestigious courses to agree to host the event, with the exception of Royal Birkdale, which hosted the event twice during its early days - in 1982 and 1986. Woburn Golf and Country Club in Buckinghamshire, England has hosted the most Women's British Opens, with 10, including seven straight events from 1990 through 1996.