Ann Arbor — There was a time when the pressure of the big moment was too much for Ariya Jutanugarn.
As the 20-year-old golf phenom described it on Sunday, being in contention to win on the LPGA Tour left her scared and unsure of how to handle playing in that sort of competitive environment. It’s something that overwhelmed her early this season at the ANA Inspiration, the first major of the season on the women’s tour.
She was in position to win only to bogey the final three holes and watch as Lydia Ko birdied the last hole to take the championship. But that moment proved to be the final lesson Jutanugarn needed, the one that would lead to not only her first victory on the LPGA Tour, but her third straight Sunday at the inaugural Volvik Championship at Travis Pointe Country Club.
“At ANA like I don't know how to play with pressure,” Jutanugarn said. “I don't know how to control when I got really nervous. So after that actually I get a lot more confident after ANA because I feel like I'm good enough to win.
“After ANA I really want to win so I just work hard and try to do everything to make me win the LPGA.”
That first win came at the Yokohama Tire Classic in early May and was followed up last week at the Kingsmill Championship. On Sunday, she added No. 3, the first person to win three in a row since Inbee Park in 2013.
“It feels good,” Jutanugarn said. “This year my goal was is just like win a tournament, so win like three in a row quick.”
The pressure wasn’t the same on Sunday as it was at the first major, and that’s because after a front nine where she managed just one birdie and waited out a 50-minute weather delay, the big hitter went back to pummeling the field on the back nine.
Without a driver in her bag this week, Jutanugarn picked up four more birdies to run away from the field with a 5-under 67 in the final round and finish 15-under overall and take home the winner’s check of $195,000.
Christina Kim, who birdied 18 to come in at 10-under, was the closest to Jutanugarn while Jessica Korda and Brooke Henderson each finished 9-under.
“She's a unique,” said Kim, who opened the tournament with an 8-under 64 on Thursday and could never got the putter going again. “Ariya is very difficult to describe. There really hasn't been a player like her honestly in my generation, and the way that she just powers the ball, it's remarkable. She's got such imagination around the golf course and incredible touch and it's really, really cool to see how far she's come.”
Consecutive birdies at Nos. 13 and 14 helped separate Jutanugarn from the jumbled group of contenders as she added birdies at 16 and 17 and cruised to the title.
“Front nine I (was) really excited and nervous and I don't even think like what I have to do,” Jutanugarn said. “I just feel like I don't want to have bogey, I don't want to miss left or miss right. And back nine I just feel like, ‘OK, I just have to do what is under my control,’ and it just made me a lot better.”
Korda entered the final round two back of Jutanugarn and closed to within one when she birdied the seventh hole. But the weather delay hit and Korda came back out and bogeyed No. 8. She was unable to put any pressure on her playing partner the rest of the afternoon, making 10 straight pars.
“I’m speechless,” Korda said. “That was amazing. I definitely didn’t see — what, 5-under she shot? I didn’t see 5-under there when we started the day.”
Kim moved within a shot of Jutanugarn after a birdie on No. 10, but two straight bogeys took her out of contention. Henderson made a late push, shooting 4-under 68 to reach 9-under overall, while Belen Mozo finished at 8-under following a final-round 70.
Top-ranked American Lexi Thompson — No. 3 in the world — was in a group of four players that finished at 7-under. Thompson closed with her best round of the week, shooting 5-under 67 on Sunday.
Jutanugarn plans to take next week off before returning for the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship in two weeks. If she wins there, it would not only be her first major but she would match the four straight victories from Lorena Ochoa in 2008.
It would be impressive for someone who missed 10 straight cuts at one point last season, but with the momentum Jutanugarn has built at this point, few will betting against her.
“She just needed that first win,” Kim said. “She’s going to be unstoppable.”