Thai school girl goes toe-to-toe with golf's big names

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Pattya (Thailand) Oct 25: While other golfers land lucrative contacts for playing in big tournaments, 11-year-old Ariya Jutanukarn's reward for reaching her first LPGA Tour event was an ice cream covered in chocolate sauce.

When the diminutive Thai teed off at the Honda LPGA Thailand today, she became the youngest golfer to compete in a major international tour event -- men's or women's -- beating American cover-girl Michelle Wie's record by five months.

The perky schoolgirl, who took up golf when she was five, is unfazed by the big event and is thrilled to be going toe-to-toe with the likes of Annika Sorenstam and Paula Creamer after advancing through a qualifying round earlier in the week.

''A lot of people are watching, there's a lot of pressure on me but it's a chance for me to get experience, play with the top players and show people what I can do,'' Ariya told Reuters.

''I feel very excited, just having the chance to play is amazing -- it's great to make history,'' added Ariya, who wears an oversized cap and a pink top emblazoned with the logo of her first sponsor, a local dried fish snacks company.

As if the appearance of an 11-year-old on the greens of the Siam Country Club in Pattaya was not odd enough, the presence of big sister Moriya in matching clothes has also raised a few smiles.

The 13-year-old narrowly missed out on qualifying, so Ariya is employing her big sister as a caddy.

HEFTY BAG

''She has a lot of experience, she can give me good advice,'' Ariya said of her sister, who is only slightly taller than the hefty bag she is lugging around the 6,392-yard course.

''She knows more than my dad. She has more experience as a player and she's used to carrying her own bag.'' The pair jog together every morning before class and spend three hours practicing on the driving range after school.

Father Somboon is very proud of his daughters.

''I didn't think about her beating the record, I'm just pleased to see Ariya get this experience,'' said Somboon, who with his pony-tail, rounded sunglasses and baggy cargo shorts looks more like a Thai rock star than a golf instructor.

''I have a couple of future top 10 players here, I'm really proud of them,'' he added.

Even though Ariya is in the limelight this week, she expects her sister to make the step up to the big international golf circuit first.

''She's a better player than me,'' said Ariya, prompting Moriya to shake her head in disagreement.

''I really wanted to play against her here.'' For now, Ariya is happy to play against the big girls, especially her idol, Sweden's Sorenstam. She dreams of emulating the 10-times major winner and says golf's riches are of little interest to her right now.

''I know the other players are getting money for this but I'm getting experience,'' she added.

''That's a lot more important than money.''

Reuters
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