WILLIAMSBURG — More than 20 golfers requested a sponsor's invitation to this week's LPGA Kingsmill Championship. Ariya Jutanugarn's stood alone — for one reason.
"She's a world-class player," said Wayne Nooe, Kingsmill's director of golf.
No matter that she's only 17. No matter that her age precludes LPGA Tour membership. From tee to green, Jutanugarn is a natural.
And unlike many prodigies, her results match, and arguably exceed, her potential.
Jutanugarn's talent was evident from the moment she began play at 9:21 a.m. Thursday. She birdied the first three holes and six of the first seven en route to an opening-round of 7-under-par 64, two shots clear of the field.
Not even a double-bogey at the par-3 17th fazed Jutanugarn. She rocketed another drive at 18, nestled a 50-degree wedge tight to the pin and made the birdie putt.
A native of Thailand, Jutanugarn struggles with English. But her summary of the round was as accurate as it was brief.
"Today, I'm playing really good," she said.
As she has throughout a remarkable 2013 in which she has eclipsed her older sister.
No small feat there. Moriya Jutanugarn, 18, leads the LPGA rookie of the year standings thanks to five top-30 finishes in eight tournaments.
But Ariya is excelling on not only the LPGA Tour but also the Ladies European Tour.
Both circuits have age minimums of 18, but only the LET approved Ariya's petition for a waiver. She has taken full advantage.
Ariya won the LET's 2012 qualifying school and leads the 2013 Order of Merit, the Euros' ostentatious synonym for money list. She earned her first professional victory at the LET tournament in Morocco and tied for second at the event in Australia.
Meanwhile, through sponsor's invitations and Monday qualifiers, Ariya competed in three LPGA tournaments prior to Kingsmill, finishing second, third and fourth and earning $328,643.
Were she a member, Ariya would be No. 8 on the Tour's money list.
(Ariya is one of Kingsmill's two sponsor's invites. The other, former South Carolina All-American Katie Burnett, shot 3-under 68 Thursday.)
Ariya is "going to be a great addition to our Tour when she … gets her (playing) card full-time," said Cristie Kerr, a two-time Kingsmill champion after her Thursday 66. "She hits it really long, and she just kind of aims at the pin and fires it there."
That care-free approach cost Ariya at the LPGA Thailand in February. She led Inbee Park by two strokes approaching the final hole, only to get too aggressive, draw an unlucky embedded lie in a bunker and make triple-bogey.
"It was really hard," Ariya said of coping with the meltdown, "because even if I just make bogey, I'm going to win. But it's very good experience. I'll never forget it. … It's made me a stronger golfer."
Indeed, the very next week Ariya finished fourth at the LPGA tournament in Singapore.
"That was so sad," Moriya said of Ariya's Thailand experience. "(But) she learned from that."
The sisters are as close as you'd expect. Both honed their games on the American Junior Golf Association circuit — Nooe saw Ariya play in a 2011 event in Roanoke in which his son competed — and they travel with their parents.
When the girls are playing separately, Mom hangs with Moriya, Dad with Ariya.
"After a round, I tell (Moriya) what I missed, what I did wrong," Ariya said. "She knows everything about my game, everything about my golf swing."
Moriya shot 2-over 73 Thursday, and in the 11 LPGA rounds in which both have competed this year, Ariya leads her sister by a staggering 31 shots.
But if there's any resentment, Moriya hides it well. She was more than happy to talk about her kid sister Thursday.
"Me and my sister are … totally different with our game plans," Moriya said. "I'm a perfectionist a little bit. I want everything, like, perfect. She just takes everything easy. She's a crazy girl. …
"It's very nice to stay (this week) with our whole family, all four of us."
Runner-up at the 2011 U.S. Women's Amateur, Moriya tied for first at last year's LPGA qualifying school. She tied for fourth at this season's Women's Australian Open and for 13th at the Kraft Nabisco, the year's first major.
"It's a really big deal for me (to be on Tour)," Moriya said. "I really like my position right now, but I try to keep practicing and working hard every week. My game was not very good today. I could not hit my irons, (they were) terrible."
As she stood on the 18th green Thursday, Moriya could not escape the giant scoreboard that showed Ariya in first place.
"I said to my caddie, 'What's wrong with that?'" Moriya said with a laugh.
Moriya's frustrating Thursday aside, the Jutanugarns appear capable of joining the Sorenstams, Annika and Charlotta, as sisters to win on the LPGA Tour. But clearly, Ariya is the most likely to win first — she led after the opening round of last month's tournament in Hawaii and finished third.
"After … Thailand, I don't have any nerves any more," Ariya said. "Just do my best and enjoy the game."
Sounds like a plan.