Ariya Jutanugarn claims her first Kingsmill Championship

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Aniya Jutanugarn smiles while holding the Kingsmill Championship trophy. (Photos by Ty Hodges)
Aniya Jutanugarn smiles while holding the 2016 Kingsmill Championship trophy. (Photos by Ty Hodges)

There had never been a back-to-back champion in the 11-year history of the LPGA’s Kingsmill Championship. Well, make that 12 years, because the streak continued Sunday as Thailand’s 20-year-old Ariya Jutanugarn took home the championship with a four-round score of 14-under par.

In 2013 Jutanugarn first played in the tournament, held annually at Williamsburg’s Kingsmill Resort, thanks to a sponsor’s exemption. She led the tournament after two rounds that year, but wound up finishing tied for third.

But after earning her first LPGA Tour victory two weeks ago in the Yokohama Tire LPGA Classic in Alabama, Jutanugarn had the confidence to close out this year’s Kingsmill Championship and earn her second consecutive tour victory.

“Yeah, a lot easier,” Jutanugarn said while comparing closing out the Kingsmill Championship with the challenge of completing her first tour win two weeks ago. “I didn’t get nervous (on Sunday). I didn’t get excited until the last putt. My hands were shaking, but just a little bit. Not like last tournament; last tournament was so bad.”

Aniya Jutanugarn is doused by her friends after winning the 2016 Kingsmill Championship.
Jutanugarn is doused by her friends after her victory at Williamsburg’s Kingsmill Resort.

With her victory, Jutanugarn becomes the 10th LPGA player to win the Kingsmill Championship. Cristie Kerr is the only golfer to win it more than once, with first-place finishes in 2005, 2009 and 2013.

For Tournament Director Matthew Schulze, the inability of players to win back-to-back Kingsmill Championships indicates the quality of the golfers who are drawn to the tournament each year.

“I just think it’s the strength of the field that keeps that happening,” he said. “When you have 94 of the top 100 in the world on site, there’s a lot of good players here.”

To win the Kingsmill Championship, Jutanugarn had to hold off a hard-charging field during the final nine holes Sunday.

After making birdies on four of seven holes on the front nine and sitting at 13-under par, Jutanugarn’s pace slowed as she recorded five consecutive pars.

Aniya Jutanugarn's third shot on the 18th hole set up her tournament-winning putt.
This chip shot on the 18th hole set up Jutanugarn for her tournament-winning putt.

Meanwhile, elsewhere on the course Su Oh was sinking a long putt from the fringe of the 18th green to pull within a stroke of Jutanugarn’s lead.

An avid scoreboard watcher during her rounds, Jutanugarn knew she was being pushed by other players. But she said she didn’t feel much pressure.

“Today, I just feel like whatever it is is fine, because I just really want to have fun,” she said. “I know they play good, but I don’t really care about them. I really worry about what I want to do more.”

Needing a par on the 18th hole to secure the victory, Jutanugarn hit a great tee shot, but followed it up with a sub-par approach shot that landed on the far-right fringe of the green.

Opting to chip from the fringe rather than attempting a long putt, Jutanugarn put her third shot within six feet of the hole. She then strutted across the green and sank her par putt for the win.

For her efforts, Jutanugarn received a check for $195,000 and the coveted Kingsmill Championship trophy. She also is expected to move from No. 21 to No. 13 in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings.