Adelaide, Australia (AP) — Ariya Jutanugarn is resigned to the fact that 2017 couldn’t possibly be better than her breakout year in 2016. On the eve of the Women’s Australian Open at Royal Adelaide, the 21-year-old Thai golfer also said she’s not putting pressure on herself to overtake Lydia Ko for the No. 1 ranking.
After winning five tournaments last year, Jutanugarn captured the LPGA Tour’s player of the year award, the money title and the season-long points competition that came with a $1 million bonus.
“I’m not going to try to compare myself this year with last year, because this year, it’s not going to be like 2016,” Jutanugarn said Wednesday. “I’m just going to try my best with everything and try to be more happy on the course and try to have fun.”
Jutanugarn made her comments not long after Ko said she wasn’t concerned about being on the radar of other golfers wishing to overtake her for the top ranking. And Jutanugarn also played down the importance of her ranking.
“This year, my target, I won’t worry about the ranking at all,” she said. “I mean, there’s going to be a lot of expectation from other people, so I want to play with my own expectations.”
Jutanugarn will tee off in the first round on Thursday afternoon with defending champion Haru Nomura of Japan and England’s Charley Hull.
Here are some other things to know about the LPGA tournament which will help Royal Adelaide celebrate its 125th anniversary.
THE FIELD: Ko is among four of the top 10-ranked players entered. As well, 10 major champions, including three from 2016, are in a field that includes Brooke Henderson and Michelle Wie and Australian veteran Karrie Webb.
Ko, a South Korean-born New Zealander, has been a pro golfer since October 2013, and she’s been No. 1 for roughly half of that time. She’s held the top ranking for the past 68 weeks, after a previous stint in 2015. “I have been fortunate enough to be in this position for so long and obviously it takes a lot of hard work and, I think, luck at the same time,” Ko said Wednesday. “But when we’re out there, we’re not thinking about what ranked player she is to me, or what I am. That is the mindset I have been trying to take. I feel more self-pressure rather than pressure from others.”
CONSISTENT HENDERSON: No. 8-ranked Henderson had the second-most top-10 finishes on the LPGA Tour in 2016 behind Jutanugarn (16) with 15 in her 31 starts. Between February and April, the 19-year-old Canadian had eight straight top-10 finishes, and later captured two wins in June including her first major at the Women’s PGA Championship. “2016 was really incredible, having my first major win … a top 10 at the Olympics, incredible experience and I feel like I learned a lot about myself on and off the course.”
GETTING A (NEW) GRIP: Wie is back for the first time since 2012 at the Women’s Australian Open, where she missed her cut in her only previous appearance in this event. She has five top-10 finishes since her last LPGA victory at the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open and had just one top-10 all of last season, after having none in 2015. After missing the cut at the season-opening Bahamas LPGA Classic, Wie said she plans a new style on the greens in Adelaide— the “claw” putting grip made popular by Phil Mickelson and Sergio Garcia. Wie will also shelve her “table-top” stance, where her body is at a 90-degree angle over the ball, to a regular position over the putter.
WEBB TO CONTINUE: Webb says she has no plans to cut back on her schedule this year, despite dealing with the disappointment of not making Australia’s Olympic team for Rio de Janeiro in 2016. When asked Wednesday if this might be the last time she’ll play the Australian Open, Webb said: “I don’t think so, I hope not. Something terrible would happen if that were to be the case.”
She said she’s planning a full set of tournaments in 2017.
“One of the things that I had to re-assess was that I didn’t go to the Olympics, which was really disappointing, and really it took me a while to work out what I wanted to do,” she said. “The game has been so good to me and that’s what we’ve been talking about. I couldn’t let not making an Olympics bring all of that down. So, I’m committed to playing a full year this year and then we’ll just see. I’m just going to play it year by year.”