NAPLES, Fla. — Ariya Jutanugarn and Sung Hyun Park have taken the No. 1 ranking in women’s golf and bandied it back and forth in recent months like a foot bag in a game of hacky sack, exchanging it with a freedom that is striking, and perhaps, game-changing.
Neither employs a full-time swing coach, and in the copycat world of golf, where so many chase success by following the leaders, their self-reliant streaks could accelerate a culture change that already has some momentum. In addition to Jutanugarn and Park, who have three victories apiece this season, Brittany Lincicome and Thidapa Suwannapura also won this year without a full-time instructor serving as a guide.
For the women, who at times have drawn criticism for their overreliance on others, be they intrusive parents or hovering caddies, the swing toward self-sufficiency is a significant development. It matters in a sport where people persist in believing that the rule prohibiting caddies from aligning players, which will take effect in January, is a women’s issue.
“In the men’s world, one of the knocks against the women has been that none of them can line themselves up,” said Jerry Foltz, a touring-pro-turned-reporter for Golf Channel who never understood the criticism.
“To me, this is nothing more than optics,” he said, adding, “There are plenty of men on the PGA Tour who do it, but they don’t seem to draw the same attention.”
The way Jutanugarn, who is Thai, and Park, a South Korean, go about their business matters because the sport’s landscape has changed dramatically since the 18-time major winner Jack Nicklaus had his swing fine-tuned during his off weeks by his coach, Jack Grout, who rarely traveled to tournaments. Or since Annika Sorenstam won 10 majors with her childhood instructor, Henri Reis, who also seldom attended tournaments outside of the majors.
As rivers of cash have streamed into the sport, a cottage industry of experts has risen around golf’s main tributaries, the L.P.G.A. and PGA tours, flooding both with entourages that serve and feed the insecurities of perfectionists trying to master an unconquerable game.
With so many people offering so much advice, players can lose their way in a tangle of technical thoughts. Lincicome, 33, who in July became the sixth woman to compete in a PGA Tour event, said that she has never employed a coach because she plays by feel and doesn’t want to get bogged down by the details of how her swing is made.
Suwannapura, who defeated Lincicome in a playoff at the Marathon Classic in July to earn her first L.P.G.A. victory, takes it a step further. She avoids watching video of her swing, she said, “because I know it’s not pretty.”
No matter. It works for her. Suwannapura, 25, said she has not had a full-time swing coach since she ventured from her native Thailand to begin competing internationally at age 13. She had no choice. She said her family couldn’t afford to have either of her parents travel with her, much less an instructor.
“I own my swing,” she said. “I’m with it every day. No one comes and fixes this or that. I tried a couple coaches, and they had no idea how I hit the ball. When you take care of your own swing, it teaches you how to be patient and how to survive out there when your swing is not working.”
When it comes to the swing, pride of ownership can provide a powerful advantage. Karen Stupples, a former major winner and now a Golf Channel analyst, said: “It gives you the confidence to go out and play golf. It’s not about who has the prettiest swing, and as soon as you take that worry out of the equation, it frees you to focus on just getting the ball in the hole.”
For more than two years, Jutanugarn worked with Gary Gilchrist, whose clients at one point included three of the top six women in the world. During their collaboration, which began in 2016, Gilchrist left Jutanugarn’s swing largely untouched and tackled her confidence, which required a complete overhaul after she missed 10 cuts in a row during one crushing stretch in 2015.
In August, though, Jutanugarn left Gilchrist. “I want to rely on myself more,” she said this week.
Jutanugarn, 22, continues to employ the mental coaches Lynn Marriott and Pia Nilsson, with whom she also began working in 2016. With their help, she faced her fears of failure, of falling short of others’ expectations, and realized this: When her swing breaks down, it’s usually a mental glitch, not a technical one. She didn’t commit to the club in her hands, or worried about pulling off the shot, or feared that she had let people down with her result.
“I was worrying, so that causes problems with my swing,” Jutanugarn said.
As she sees it, whether or not she has an instructor, “If I’m still scared, I’m not going to have a good swing, anyway.”
Jutanugarn said she recently started consulting with another instructor, Chris Mayson. But before she reaches out to him, she said, she watches videos taken by her caddie to try to correct her swing by herself.
“Sometimes I can, but sometimes I can’t,” Jutanugarn said.
Park, 25, has gone without a swing coach since she was 20, she said. “Sometimes I feel lonely because I’m self-reliant,” Park said through an interpreter, “but I think that’s what my personality is. That’s who I am.”
During the pro-am ahead of last month’s Hana Bank Championship in South Korea, Park was dissatisfied with how she was striking the ball. After the round, she slipped in a quick range session before she had to return to her hotel to change for the tournament’s opening dinner. But after finishing her meal, she said, she retrieved a club out of her bag and made her way to the hotel fitness facility, where she made several practice swings.
“Suddenly, I felt like: This is it. I think I’ve got this,” Park said.
It was late — after 9 p.m. — but Park didn’t want to wait until the next day to put that sensation into motion. She headed out to a lighted practice range, where she grooved her swing by herself for nearly an hour. The next day, she posted a 68. Park went on to finish in a tie for third that weekend, four strokes behind the winner, In Gee Chun.
“Because I have no coach, I was able to know my swing and I got to know myself better,” Park said. “If I can give advice to players, I would say depend on yourself and not someone else.”