Ariya Jutanugarn knows she will have a battle on her hands as she sets out to defend her title at the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Kingsbarns Golf Links and it will not just be a case of mastering the elements.
The 21-year-old Thai player has been struggling with a long-standing shoulder injury which flared up again while playing in last week’s Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Ladies’ Open and to make matters worse she has also developed a bad cold since arriving in the Home of Golf.
“I’m sick,” she admitted while speaking to the media for the first time this week ahead making the start to her defence alongside Korean World No. 1 So Yeon Rhu and America’s Lexi Thompson at just after mid-day on Thursday. “I’ve got a cold. It’s not an allergy but I don’t feel great.”
Nevertheless, Juntanugarn is boosted by some great memories of her three-shot victory over Mo Martin and Mirim Lee at Woburn last year and by her first visit to St Andrews on Sunday when she walked the Old Course with sister Moriya who is also in this week’s field.
“It was really cool to be there,” she said. “My sister has played the course before so she took me around the 17th and 18th and we took a picture on the Swilken Bridge. “It’s very special. There’s a lot of history there.
“I have some great memories of last year but this week’s going to be very different,” she added. “I like the course but it’s going to be really challenging if the wind picks up. I think it’s going to be very hard but I’m really looking forward to it.”
One of Jutanugarn’s main challengers is likely to be 2015 champion Inbee Park who has seen her profile at home in China soar since she won the Gold Medal at last year’s Olympic Games in Rio.
“When I won (the Gold Medal) suddenly a lot of people who didn’t know golf kind of knew golf. A lot of random people came up to me and said: ‘I watched you playing and know what golf is now.’”
“There’s been a lot of them. The lady in the restaurant. The guy in the gas station. A lot of them talk to me now.”
Park missed last year’s Championship through injury but she believes her previous experience of links golf will stand her in good stead. “I love playing links golf,” she admitted. “Sometimes it fools me. Sometimes I get away (with it). I get some years when I play really well in the wind and some years I get caught up in it and don’t get it but that’s what it’s all about. It’s complicated and very challenging but that’s the point.”
2016 KPMG Women’s PGA champion Brooke Henderson also believes she is slowly but surely coming to terms with this form of the game. She played in the British Amateur at Carnoustie in 2012 and then made her debut in the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Turnberry two years ago.
“I’ve had a few goes at links golf,” she said. “It’s very different from what I normally play but I feel like I’m getting better at it and understand how to play it a little better.
“It was pretty crazy but I felt playing in the bad weather today kind of got me prepared for the week. But I forgot my rain pants so I’ll make sure they are in the bag for tomorrow.”
Henderson begins her first round at 07.36 on Thursday alongside Michelle Wie and Lydia Ko while Park starts her campaign at 1.38 in the company of Haru Nomura and Nelly Korda.