A decade before her first LPGA Tour win at the ISPS Handa World Invitational on Sunday, Pajaree Anannarukarn had a chat with her father about how she marked her golf balls. Her creative 12 year old self drew so many pictures on the ball that she could barely see the white shell when it was sitting in the rough. They agreed that she should stick to one sentence to mark her ball: “Good luck”, that’s how she describes her ball to this day.
So maybe it was no coincidence that their first career LPGA victory in Northern Ireland, with perhaps a little luck, came from the Irish when they defeated Emma Talley in a two-hole playoff after doing 72 holes each in 16-under-275 graduated from Galgorm Castle Golf Club. The afternoon ended with Anannarukarn’s father lifting her up to celebrate and whirling happily on the 18th green while friends sprayed her with water.
“[My dad has] was always by my side from the start of my career, ”said Anannarukarn. “And just being able to share it with him was something very special.”
Anannarukarn admitted that with a bit of luck, she would recover from a slip on the sixth par-4 course. Bound for the guide that penetrates the hole, she had to break away from an awkward posture next to a tree in the neck after an idiosyncratic tee shot. She landed a triple bogey in the end and fell back by two.
Instead of complaining about the triple, Anannarukarn somehow let go of the harrowing moment as soon as she headed to the seventh tee.
“I just forgot,” said Anannarukarn. “I just got up and told myself to keep trying, just do my best.”
Anannarukarn reformulated and played the last 12 holes at three-under. She followed Kupcho with three strokes to play with one stroke, but Kupcho opened the door with bogeys on two of her last three holes, the last one in the water on Par-5 with her third stroke from the left rough. The 2019 Augusta National Women’s Amateur Champion missed the playoffs with a stroke to claim a first-ever LPGA win.
“I suffocated at the national championships for a year and then came back and won the next year,” said Kupcho.
From then on it became a matchplay mode between Talley and Anannarukarn. On her 72nd hole, Anannarukarn ran her birdie putt two and a half meters past the cup. But the native Thai and Talley each beat their pars, which guaranteed a first-time winner.
After pars on the first playoff hole, Talley hit her drive in the second extra hole into a bunker to the right of the fairway. Anannarukarn followed on a similar line, but her ball barely carried the bunker and settled in the rough.
Talley made her mistake worse with a second shot into the rough and a third that whipped the guests off to the right of the green. After Anannarukarn hit the green with her third, Talley’s chip stopped just short of the green. Her 20-foot plaster from right to left from the edge missed the cup in the lower left and left a tap-in bogey. Anannarukarn hit her first putt over the edge for eight feet and then punched the winning putt.
Anannarukarn attributed the consistency of her approach to how she appeared to remain calm under pressure with her putter.
“I just really get back to my routine,” said Anannarukarn, “and try to stay focused and committed to the given line and really trust that I can get there.”
Second place is the best result of Talley’s career. Trying to maintain that perspective before the game started on Sunday, she wrote in her Yardage book on Saturday night, “Thank God for this opportunity and experience, no matter what.”
“That’s how I really feel,” Talley said afterwards.
Anannarukarn’s win makes her the fifth first-time winner of the LPGA Tour in 2021. She is also the fourth Thai player to win this year, alongside Patty Tavatanakit at ANA Inspiration, Ariya Jutanugarn at Honda LPGA Thailand, and Moriya and Ariya Jutanugarn as Partner for a win at the DOW Great Lakes Bay Invitational. It is the most individual Thai champion in a single season in LPGA history.
“It is a great honor to represent Thailand and to be able to win here,” said Anannarukarn. “It is definitely a dream to achieve this.”