Thailand hailed Ariya Jutanugarn as their new sporting hero on Tuesday as she finally secured her place on top of the world rankings — a week after being wrongly named number one.
The 21-year-old overcame that disappointment to sink a monster 25-foot birdie putt in a playoff on Sunday to take the Manulife LPGA Classic in breathtaking style and ensure a fairytale finish to a rollercoaster week.
The win in Canada came a week after the LPGA said Ariya would take over the top ranking from Lydia Ko, only for her to be informed when the rankings were published a day later that an embarrassing miscalculation had been made and that she was still 0.01 points behind the New Zealander.
The weekend’s victory put her elevation to number one beyond doubt and it was duly confirmed when the new rankings were released on Monday, sparking celebrations back home.
Thailand has a long golfing history but Ariya made history by being the first Thai, male or female, to reach the top of the world rankings.
Pictures of a beaming Ariya — known by her nickname “May” back home — were emblazoned across most Thai newspaper front pages on Tuesday.
“May is world’s number one, she has made history for Thai golfers,” read the front page headline of Thairath, the country’s largest selling newspaper.
“She fought hard to claim her success,” junta chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha told reporters. “Her family were dedicated, they struggled and sacrificed.”
Much of the coverage focused on the financial sacrifices Ariya’s family made so she and her older sister Moriya, the world number 46, could turn pro.
Ariya first showed an interest in golf at the age of five when her father opened an equipment shop at a Bangkok driving range.
Worried she might distract customers, Ariya’s dad gave her some clubs to play with, local media reported.
From then on both she and Moriya were hooked.
As they progressed through their teens the family sold their house and car to raise enough funds.
It was a gamble that paid off. Ariya has won some $3.9 million in career earnings while her sister has racked up $1.6 million.
Many Thais left messages of support on social media after Ariya’s number one spot was confirmed.
“You have written a new chapter in Thailand’s sporting history,” wrote one Facebook user. “You have won the hearts of all Thais.”
Ariya’s struggles and success mirrors that of Thailand’s other great female sporting star — badminton player Ratchanok Intanon.
She has also topped the world rankings during her career and first picked up a racket at a badminton centre where her parents worked as a cleaner and driver.
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