Ariya Jutanugarn of Bangkok, Thailand, earned the right to Rolex Junior Player of the Year on the strength of four victories in national competition and four runner-up performances in 2011.
Introduced by the AJGA in 1978, the Rolex Junior Player of the Year award recognizes one boy and one girl who had the most outstanding year in junior golf events at the national level. Past recipients have gone on to become some of the most esteemed players on the PGA and LPGA Tours, including Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Charles Howell III, Hunter Mahan, Scott Verplank, Cristie Kerr, Paula Creamer and Morgan Pressel.
Eight top-two finishes during the 2011 season helped distinguish Jutanugarn as the year’s top girl junior golfer. She won four tournaments, including the Rolex Girls Junior Championship and the U.S. Girls’ Junior, and was runner-up four times. She finished with 13 rounds in the 60s (out of 30 rounds), a 70.27 scoring average, and has held the No. 1 position in the Polo Golf Rankings since July.
She began the season on the right track with a win at the Junior Orange Bowl International Golf Championship in December 2010.
Through the spring of 2011, Jutanugarn added two runner-up finishes to her resume, when she finished second to her sister, Moriya, at the Winn Grips Heather Farr Classic hosted by Longbow Golf Club and the Scott Robertson Memorial.
She ended the spring season with another top-10 finish at the Thunderbird International Junior where she tied for eighth.
It was in the summer months, however, that Jutanugarn began to make her case for Rolex Junior Player of the Year.
In early June, she was victorious at the Rolex Girls Junior Championship after firing a final-round 5-under-par 67 to overcome a three-shot deficit and win by four strokes. Two weeks later at the Rolex Tournament of Champions, she finished second after falling to Gabriella Then in a sudden-death playoff.
The two would meet again the following month at the U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship. Jutanugarn bested the field in stroke play and earned the top seed for match play. She advanced through the first two rounds without taking a match past the 15th hole, and after defeating Canada’s Jisoo Keel in the Round of 16, she once again found herself against Then for a quarterfinal showdown. Jutanugarn claimed her first lead of the match on No. 16 and held on for a 1-up victory. Two matches later, Jutanugarn earned her first USGA victory, and third total victory of the year.
Her next stop was the Junior PGA Championship, where she never carded a round over 70 and ended the 72-hole event with a 10-shot victory.
In October, Jutanugarn closed out the season with a runner-up finish at The PING Invitational, where after the first round, she found herself in 20th. She battled back the final two rounds, climbing to 14th following the second round. Her final-round 6-under-par 66 proved to be a course record at Karsten Creek and propelled her to a second-place finish.
Jutanugarn has been named a first-team Rolex Junior All-American twice in two years of AJGA competition. Overall, her two-year resume boasts top-10 finishes in each of the 12 events in which she has participated. Of those 12 events, she finished in the top-four 10 times.
Her accomplishments during the past season will be heralded Nov. 20 during the Rolex Junior All-America Awards Banquet at PGA National Resort & Spa in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. The awards ceremony, dubbed “The Greatest Night in Junior Golf,” will also trumpet the achievements of the rest of golf’s next generation by means of the Rolex Junior All-America Teams, HP Scholastic Junior All-America Teams and Jerry Cole Sportsmanship Award.