There was a time when Moriya Jutanugarn and her sister Ariya, younger by 17 months, would tee a golf ball and hit it roughly the same distance.
“When we started, we were both small, and the ball went the same,’’ Moriya said. “And then Ariya had a growth spurt, and I did not.’’
This took place in Bangkok, where their mother, Narumon, was such a golf addict that pregnancy couldn’t keep her away from regular play. Moriya started playing at 7 and Ariya at 5, and the walk to their tee shots was similar.
And then came that growth spurt for the kid sister.
On Friday, the Jutanugarn sisters had their names on the leaderboard throughout the second round of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Hazeltine National, where a strong wind was present.
Moriya, 24, was out early and managed an even-par 72 to stay at 1 under and in the top 10.
“The wind was stronger for us the last nine holes,’’ she said. “It is blowing now. The conditions for the afternoon … I guess it will be the same for everyone.’’
Ariya, 23, was in that wind nearly an hour after her sister finished. She was in a featured group with Lexi Thompson, No. 2 and the only U.S. player among the top 11 in the world rankings, and Inbee Park, seven-time major champion, starting with the U.S. Open at Interlachen in 2008.
Park received a gracious reception from the gallery when introduced on the first tee. The spectators gave Thompson closer to a roar. And then came Ariya, introduced to a fine ovation that turned to a mass “wow’’ at the sound of the crack when club met ball.
Park, Thompson and Jutanugarn headed down the incline to the first fairway. Park started moving left as she passed 220 yards. Thompson stopped a few seconds later in fine position. And then Jutanugarn kept walking for another 10-15 yards.
What made that interesting is Park and Thompson hit drivers and Jutanugarn went with her familiar 3-wood — so familiar she went back to removing her driver from the bag after breaking it out for a couple of tee shots in Thursday’s opening round.
The driver was first benched way back in 2015 after a 19-year-old Ariya had missed 10 straight cuts.
Now, it’s basically that she doesn’t need it. She entered at 25th in driving distance in LPGA stats at 275 yards, compared to 133rd at 251.3 yards for Moriya.
Ariya is 3 inches taller than her 5-4 sister. She has a powerful frame that advertises the coming of a crunched Titleist. Moriya is short and scrappy. That’s good, right?
Ariya already is a two-time LPGA Player of the Year (2016, 2018), with two majors included in her 10 career wins.
And the most exciting win of her career? A couple of LPGA employees who travel this worldwide tour insist that it was when Moriya had her first victory in April 2018 in the L.A. Open.
The report of her sister crying with joy on that Sunday at Wilshire Country Club was mentioned to Moriya.
“Yes, she did,’’ Moriya said. “It was a moment that we had been waiting for a very long time. I cheer for all her victories, and she had a chance to do that for me.’’
Moriya said she could not recall the exact time when the younger sister started blowing the tee ball past her. It had to be in preteen years, since Ariya qualified for the 2007 Honda LPGA tournament in Thailand at age 11.
So what’s the difference in distance now?
Moriya smiled and said: “It depends on how far she wants to hit it. Ariya is that kind of player.’’
The Jutanugarns both turned professional in 2013. They traveled with their parents and lived out of suitcases until 2016, when the sisters moved into a condo in Orlando — providing something of a home base.
The golf games the sisters play have nothing in common, and neither do the personalities, apparently. Beth Ann Nichols from Golfweek visited the Orlando condo early in the sisters’ occupancy and offered this quote from meticulous Moriya about the let-it-fly Ariya:
“She forgets things really quick. You know a goldfish? Goldfish have memory for 30 seconds. That’s what she has.”
Example: After a dominant 2018 and being No. 1 in the world entering March 2019, she is winless this year and has fallen to No. 8.
What … Ariya worry? She had an eagle on the par-5 seventh, hit a 313-yard 3-wood on the 10th, put together a second straight 2-under 70 and will be in the final twosome with leader Hannah Green in Saturday’s third round.