Final Piece In The Championship Puzzle
Amateur Title Should Finally Give Nirapathpongporn The Recognition She
David Shefter, USGA
Gladwyne, Pa. – The Women’s Amateur trophy that Virada Nirapathpongporn captured
on Sunday at Philadelphia Country Club – taking a famous line from the
hit movie “ Jerry McGuire ” – definitely “completed her.”
was the crowning achievement in a career that was devoid of that one
major victory; that one title that would recognize her as one of the
best amateurs in the women’s game. The 21-year-old native of Thailand
had proven herself on the collegiate level, edging out heavy favorite
Lorena Ochoa to win the 2002 NCAA Women’s Championship as well as helping
her Duke squad take the ’02 team championship.
had shown the physical and mental fortitude to qualify for two U.S.
Women’s Opens, only to miss the cut in each appearance (2002 and ’03).
résumé also included two quarterfinal showings at the last two Women’s
Amateurs, a Women’s Trans-National title in 2001 (beating Ochoa in the
36-hole final) and a round-of-eight finish at the 2001 Women’s Amateur
Public Links at Kemper Lakes near Chicago, Ill.
the biggest heartbreak occurred in June at Ocean Hammock Golf Club in
Palm Coast, Fla. Nirapathpongporn was the stroke-play medalist at the
Women’s Amateur Public Links and cruised the her first five matches
before meeting 13-year-old Michelle Wie in the 36-hole final. Yet the
adulation and hype went to Wie, who pulled out a dramative 1-up victory
by playing the equivalent of 7-under-par golf to Nirapathpongporn’s
all was erased this past week at Philadelphia Country Club. Nirapathpongporn
arrived at the classic William Flynn-designed course with a single purpose.
You could see it in her demeanor; eyes focused hard on the task and
renewed vigor to claim one of the most prestigious prizes in all of
women’s amateur golf.
have been a very consistent player,” Nirapathpongporn said after defeating
Jane Park, 2 and 1, for the title, “but I just haven’t done anything
extraordinary like winning the Publinx at 13 like Michelle (Wie) or
Aree (Song) was top-10 at Nabisco at 13 and top 5 just now (this year
at the Women’s Open). But I have always been up there.”
this championship places Nirapathpongporn in rarified air. Few players
can boast of winning an NCAA women’s title and the Women’s Amateur championship.
Grace Park, now a rising star on the LPGA Tour, was the last to accomplish
the feat. She also became just the second Thai-born golfer to win a
USGA title, joining Song, who took the Girls’ Junior in 1999.
winning NCAAs, I think that was the peak,” said Nirapathpongporn, who
will be a senior at Duke University this fall. “I was really proud of
that achievement and this was one thing that I hadn’t accomplished.
Now I have and I am ready to move on.”
plans to turn professional sometime after graduation next May. She might
rethink those plans until after the Women’s Open, where she now has
a two-year exemption provided she remains an amateur.
the Women’s Amateur title should give Nirapathpongporn some overdue
recognition. At the WAPL, she clearly was the sidebar to the main attraction.
Reporters came up to the final basically to watch Wie, even though Nirapathpongporn’s
golf accomplishments were far greater.
was really, really determined at the beginning of the week,” said Nirapathpongporn.
“This has been a dream for a really long time.”
About Mom And Dad
2001, Nirapathpongporn’s father, Apichart, has suffered from leukemia,
which has limited his travel to the U.S. to see his daughter. He caddied
for Virada at the 2001 Women’s Amateur, but did not attend last year’s
championship at Sleepy Hollow Country Club. Apichart, himself a surgeon,
has been undergoing bone-marrow transplants back in Bangkok. Her mother,
Supranee, also a doctor (radiologist), did attend the WAPL in Florida.
night, Virada has called home (it’s an 11-hour time difference) to keep
her parents abreast of the goings-on at the Women’s Amateur. The family
also has followed the action via the internet.
don’t know if they stayed up all night, though,” said Nirapathpongporn.
The championship match ended at 3:30 a.m. in Thailand.
around 4:20 a.m. right now,” added Virada of the current time in Bangkok
at the time of her post-championship interview, “but I think I will
call (my parents). I’m sure they won’t mind.
if he was dying, he would still want to be here. But I told him to please
stay home, stay healthy now so you can watch me 10 years from now. Don’t
rush and maybe you might not even be there to see me succeed. I think
he listened to me. I told him, ‘Dad, I got it. I know what I have to
do and I will go and do it. So don’t you worry.’ ”
added that she likely won’t take the Women’s Amateur trophy back home.
“I think it will stay at Duke,” she said.
next step is finding an engraver. After all, the process might take
some time. Her last name has 16 letters.
Jane Park showed up at Philadelphia Country Club with her own stellar
list of credentials, her performance just might take her to a whole
other competitive level. For starters, she has earned an exemption into
the 2004 Women’s Open. The USGA changed its exemptions for the Open
this year, giving the champion and runner-up a spot in the field, provided
they remain an amateur.
get an exemption?” Park asked incredulously. “Wow. That’s my favorite
name also is likely to pop up on the short list for the 2004 USA Curtis
Cup team that will face the Great Britain & Ireland squad at Formby
still has a couple of junior tournaments left this summer before starting
her high school girls’ golf season in the fall. She also will travel
to Sweden next month to compete in the Junior Solheim Cup, an event
Park played in last September in Minnesota.
am still a junior golfer,” the 16-year-old said. “In order to be a good
amateur I have to be the No. 1 junior golfer. I have to reach one step
at a time.”
asked what she learned the most this week, Park replied: “I learned
I can make a lot of birdies,” she said. “I learned that my game is improving
slowly as time goes on. I know it’s not going backwards; it’s going
to go forwards. I am just going to keep on improving.”
was bidding to become the fifth 16-year-old to win the Women’s Amateur.
The other four were Beatrix Hoyt (1896), Laura Baugh (1971), Michiko
Hattori (1985) and Vicki Goetze (1989).
the championship officially ended for Tez Seiberlich, the general chairman
for the Women’s Amateur, on Sunday, her focus on USGA events has not.
Her brother, Chet Walsh, qualified for the 103rd U.S. Amateur on Monday.
That championship begins Aug. 18 at Oakmont ( Pa. ) Country Club. Seiberlich
is one of 15 children. Another brother, Brendan Walsh, is the head
pro at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass.
Philadelphia Country Club will be on the national stage again in 2005
when the U.S. Amateur comes to Merion Country Club. Philadelphia C.C.
will be the second stroke-play qualifying course.
Shefter is a USGA staff writer. He can be reached at email@example.com.