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LPGA feeling force of growing group of Thai golfers, led by Ariya Jutanugarn

JAMES CITY — Some of the sounds were lost in translation during a post-championship exploration of Thailand's recent surge of success on the LPGA Tour, underscored Sunday by Ariya Jutanugarn's second-consecutive win on Tour.

The sights following her Kingsmill Championship victory helped tell the story.

The moment Ariya Jutanugarn's putt on the 18th green to seal the win dropped in the cup, her longtime friend, compatriot and final pairing mate Pornanong Phatlum put her hands together in celebration from the fringe. Then Ariya's sister, Moriya, joined a swarm of supporters that doused the winner with water before the siblings shared a big hug.

Phatlum finished four shots behind Ariya Jutanugarn's 14-under total and tied for fifth while Moriya finished tied for 40th at 2-under.

The Jutanugarns and Phatlum said the growing group of Thai golfers on Tour, up to eight at Kingsmill Sunday from six last year, are a close group.

"We're really close because we played junior golf together before," Ariya Jutanugarn said. "Pornanong, I've known her for like 10 years already. I'm really close with all of them."

"We hang out together sometimes," Moriya Jutanugarn said. "Sometimes we have different schedules. We are pretty close to each other and always support each other."

When Ariya Jutanugarn, 20, won the Yokohama Tire LPGA Classic two weeks ago in Alabama, she became Thailand's first LPGA winner in her second year on Tour.

The Jutanugarns' mother, Narumon Tiwattanasuk, travels to each stop with her daughters. With 2013 Tour rookie of the year Moriya translating, Tiwattanasuk said 21-year-old Moriya thinks a lot about what she is doing on the course. Ariya, projected to move to No. 21 in the Rolex World Rankings, does not — she just plays, Tiwattanasuk said, and the initial win two weeks ago provided a major confidence boost.

With some help from her caddie, Kwang Pulsawath, Phatlum said, "At this point, pretty much everybody is good out here, but right now, (Ariya) has more confidence. And she is a long hitter and that's how she managed her game to be better for this golf course."

When Tiwattanasuk and Moriya Jutanugarn exited the 18th hole grandstands, they were greeted with a hug from Thai super-fan turned family friend Patichan Saengpet, who donned a red, white and blue Thailand flag on top of his hat.

Saengpet lives in Orlando, Fla., and often attends LPGA events, keeping tabs on the group of Thai golfers. This was his second trip to Kingsmill.

"When they miss a putt or something," Saengpet said, "I feel something."

Ariya Jutanugarn didn't miss many Sunday, carding five birdies to just one bogey.

The Thai pro trio each spoke about the Summer Olympics rankings being significant.

Only two per country can go unless four from the same nation are ranked in the top 15 in the world. Ariya Jutanugarn and Phatlum currently hold those spots, each with top-20 overall rankings entering Kingsmill. Moriya is in line as the third alternate followed by Nontaya Srisawang, Thidapa Suwannapura, P.K. Kongkraphan, and Onnarin Sattayabanphot.

Then there's the second contesting of the UL International Crown, which Thailand qualified for last month along with the U.S., Republic of Korea, Japan, Chinese Taipei, England, China and Australia.

The biennial contest will be held in Illinois in July. Four players from each country, determined by world ranking, will go.

More important, golf is growing back at home in Thailand and the women at Kingsmill on Sunday say they can feel it.

PGA Tour players Thongchai Jaidee and Kiradech Aphibarnrat are aiding in spurring the overall growth.

"I think everybody on the LPGA Tour has inspired a lot of Thai girls as they try to work hard for it," Moriya Jutanugarn said. "They see they want to be the next generation to play in LPGA. I think it's getting bigger and bigger."

Holtzman can be reached by phone at 757-298-5830.

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