If a golf tournament were ever to be compared to a marathon, the Bank of Hope LPGA Match Play fits the bill. A typical event sees 72 holes in four days, yet finalists Pajaree Anannarukarn and Ayaka Furue each played 116 holes over five days under the scorching Las Vegas desert sun at Shadow Creek. Anannarukarn, 23, survived with a 3 & 1 win for her second career LPGA victory.
“Just looking back I’m really glad that I didn’t give up and just keep pushing myself and trying to work it back up and trying to, you know, improve on every little thing that I have to,” Anannarukarn said. “It just seems to be working well.”
The Thai native put the match away on the par-3 17th with a tee shot to inside 10 feet. Furue found the bunker and nearly holed out, her ball darting around the back of the cup and spinning out. She conceded the match.
The 2021 ISPS Handa World Invitational Winner nearly didn’t get the chance to play the weekend. Anannarukarn lost her third pool play match to Karis Davidson, 4 & 3, on Friday, then went straight to a sudden-death playoff against Davidson to advance to Saturday.
Anannarukarn’s par on the first playoff hole got her into the weekend. From there, Anannarukarn bulldozed through Cheyenne Knight (3 & 2), Carlota Ciganda (3 & 2), Linn Grant (3 & 1), and Furue to the winner’s circle.
The week turns around a challenging calendar year for Anannarukarn. The win is her third top 10 since in her past 32 starts dating to last April, and her first of 2023. She missed eight cuts in a nine-event stretch from July through October last year. Number 97 player in the Rolex World Rankings, she continues working on a “number of things,” she said, from her swing to her approach to each shot.
“When I won my Northern Ireland I continue playing some great golf until 2022, early of the year, and then started going down,” Anannarukarn said. “I feel like I’m trying to figure out. Golf, sometimes it’s hard to just come back up. And then I just tried every possible way just to improve my game and just keep believing, and I’m lucky that I have everyone around me that helped me and support me along the way just since day one.”
The win qualifies her for the U.S. Women’s Open at Pebble Beach in July.
Furue’s runner-up finish mirrors last year’s result. The only matches the Japanese star lost at each tournament were in the finals. The second-place finish marks the 2022 Trust Golf Women’s Scottish Open winner’s fourth top five of 2023 in nine starts. Furue, who turned 23 on Saturday, never saw the 18th hole at Shadow Creek in her run to the final.
“It was the most difficult play I’ve ever had and the green was really hard and like quick and it was really hard to play well for me,” Furue said.
For Anannarukarn’s title defense next year, she already knows what to improve for 2024. She needs to start running.
“I feel like I need to work on my cardio obviously, just keeping up with that heart rate because it’s been pumping so hard on the second 18.”