Don’t miss Orioles players, John Means & Paul Fry, as they guest host at our Brews and O’s event!

Chuasiriporn playing through Golf: Young Timonium pro-to-be is on a roll, and will take new respect she earned in U.S. Women's Open into this week's U.S. Women's Amateur.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Jenny Chuasiriporn noticed the difference immediately. She could see it on the faces of her opponents in the two tournaments she played in after the recent U.S. Women's Open.

It happened first in Aiken, S.C., at the Trans-National, where she lost in the final to local favorite Rebekah Owens. It happened again at the Maryland State Amateur, where she lost in the semifinals to Leland Beckel.

"I sensed people saying, 'She played in the Open. She made the cut. She's on a different level,' " Chuasiriporn said last week, sitting outside the pro shop at Hunt Valley Golf Club.

"I guess I didn't see what I accomplished being any big deal. I guess I had to convince myself that it was the Open. I don't think I went in and came out with a different game."

But Chuasiriporn (pronounced CHORE-seara-porn), a 20-year-old from Timonium, understands that the bar has been raised. Not as much with her expectations as with the feeling others might have going into matches with her. It is bound to happen again this week should Chuasiriporn advance past the 36-hole medal-play portion and into match play at the 97th U.S. Women's Amateur. Play begins tomorrow at Brae Burn Country Club in West Newton, Mass.

"I probably always have had the feeling that I expect to win every tournament I play," she said. "I also know my game does vary from week to week and that it might be affected by outside pressures or stress. I try not to put too much pressure on myself. I don't get too disappointed if I lose."

Yet after failing to get past the second round of match play in last year's Amateur, Chuasiriporn knows that she is expected to go further this year. Now ranked fifth nationally, Chuasiriporn has gone from being considered one of the promising college players in the country to, in the eyes of some, one of the game's future stars.

All because of what happened at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club outside Portland, Ore., last month.

The course on which Tiger Woods won his record third straight U.S. Amateur last summer was the place where Chuasiriporn had a major breakthrough in what had been a quietly impressive career. An opening-round 70 put her briefly on the leader board, helped her make the cut and led to her becoming low amateur at 13-over-par 297.

"The only things I came out of it with were a little more experience and more confidence in my game," said Chuasiriporn, who'll be a junior at Duke in the fall.

"That course was a pretty difficult setup. Knowing that I can play on that course, I feel I can play on any course. It opened up my expectations in every tournament I'll enter."

Ted Sheftic, the head pro at Hanover Country Club in Abbottstown, Pa., looks at what his prized student accomplished with a little different perspective. Having coached Jenny and her brother, Joey, for the past seven years, and having coached a number of current LPGA players, Sheftic saw it as a sign for the future.

"I really expected her to make the cut," Sheftic said. "What surprised me was to see her on the leader board and see how well she handled it."

It was just a continuation of her play this summer, which included winning the Women's Eastern Amateur in Williamsburg, in what amounted to a 12-hole playoff, and winning the individual title at a competition in Japan between U.S. collegiate players and their Japanese counterparts.

As for this week's Amateur, Sheftic said: "She's going out there with the attitude to win. She's not out there to just to hit some nice shots."

'Cheap clubs'

It all started innocently enough. Paul Chuasiriporn took up the game shortly after coming to the United States from Thailand in 1970.

He and his wife, Edy, whom he had met in Baltimore after she came here from Bangkok in 1972, played the public courses around the city before their first two children were born 11 months apart.

When Joey was 8 and Jenny 7, the Chuasiriporns opened up a restaurant, Bangkok Place, on York Road. Their restaurant will celebrate its 13th anniversary later this month, which is about the same length of time as their kids have been playing golf. It wasn't as much a coincidence as you might think.

"We didn't have time to play, so we gave them the clubs," Paul Chuasiriporn recalled during a break at the restaurant last week. "They were cheap clubs."

The Chuasiriporns also enrolled their children in the junior program of the Baltimore public golf courses. They later joined Hunt Valley and got their children junior memberships. Each morning in the summer, they would drop the children off on the way to the restaurant and pick them up in the afternoon.

Nearly from the beginning, Jenny wound up playing with her brother and his friends.

"We would bring her to the blue tees and force her to hit longer shots," said Joey Chuasiriporn, 21, now a scratch player with two years of eligibility left at Penn State. "It definitely accelerated her game."

She eventually outgrew the girls competition at Hunt Valley, winning the Jimmy Flattery Memorial Tournament six straight years, beginning when she was 8. On the recommendation of Justin Klein, another local prodigy and fellow future Duke student, she and Joey started working with Sheftic.

"Right off the bat, you could see she had a tremendous amount of ability and the right attitude," Sheftic said. "The main thing you can't teach a kid is the desire to excel. She really had a focus."

By the age of 15, she was a Rolex All-American for the first of three straight years, concluding when she was named first-team All-American by the American Junior Golf Association.

School days

Recruited out of Notre Dame Prep by some of the nation's golf powers -- including Tulsa, which Hall of Famer Nancy Lopez attended in the mid-1970s -- Chuasiriporn chose Duke.

It allowed her a chance to stay relatively close to home and to go to a school where she wouldn't be viewed as just a golfer.

"I enjoy college," said Chuasiriporn, who plans on getting her degree in either psychology or economics. "When the time comes [to turn pro], I'll be ready. I just like being at school. I don't like to do everything [relating to] golf. I like my time away."

That is why, despite what happens at this week's Amateur, she (( plans to finish at Duke, where she won an Atlantic Coast Conference title as a freshman and has been an All-American the past two years. But her recent experience helped give Chuasiriporn a glimpse of her future, and of the competition.

She recalled playing six holes of a practice round with Amy Alcott, a former star on the LPGA Tour whose game faded when she was on the brink of qualifying for the Hall of Fame. Included in those holes was one in which Alcott holed out from the fairway for an eagle. Alcott and others Chuasiriporn played with during the week imparted the same advice.

"They told me to stay in school," Chuasiriporn said. "It's a tough life. You've got to be prepared."

While Sheftic noted Chuasiriporn's more-than-respectable driving average of more than 241 yards at Pumpkin Ridge, Chuasiriporn learned the most from her worst round of the week. By the time she began play Saturday -- she would shoot 78 -- she had already played 80 holes, as well as practiced before and after each round.

"I was exhausted," she said. "I probably took it a little too seriously."

Keeping their cool

During their years in junior clinics at Pine Ridge, Joey Chuasiriporn recalled his kid sister being called "Smiley." It made sense since their parents come from a country known as "The Land of Smiles."

The smile represents a usually even-tempered on-course persona that a more famous player of Thai descent -- Tiger Woods -- attributes to his mother. Joey Chuasiriporn said that both he and his sister -- as well as their little brother, Jimmy, 9 -- get their demeanor from both of their parents, in particular their father.

"When [Jenny] hits a bad shot, she may give a funny look, but then she's focused on her next shot," said Joey, who caddied for his sister during the Open and will carry her bag again this week.

Said Sheftic, "I don't think if you can tell whether Jenny's playing good or bad."

Sheftic recalled Chuasiriporn being given a personality test earlier this year by Deborah Graham, a San Antonio-based sports psychologist with whom she had worked to get over nerves. It is a test that tries to measure mental toughness on the course.

"Jenny had one of the strongest tests," Sheftic said.

Still, there are times when Chuasiriporn's mind wanders and her concentration wanes, especially during match play. She nearly let a huge lead slip away before winning the Eastern Amateur. She did let a big lead disappear in losing her match in the Maryland Amateur.

But the experience at the Open will be taken with her to the U.S. Amateur. It will probably help that she is not considered the favorite. Not with 18-year-old phenom Grace Park, called by some "the female Tiger Woods," in the 144-player field. And not with Marisa Baena of Colombia, who lost to Kelli Kuehne in the tournament final last year in Lincoln, Neb., still around.

And what would happen if Chuasiriporn did win?

"It probably wouldn't change my priorities for the next two years," she said. "I know I can do it. It's a matter of being extremely confident with my swing and getting lucky with the pairings. It's a golf marathon, and I can't afford to look ahead."

That won't happen. All she has to do is look at the faces of her opponents. If they didn't know her before, they do now.

Women's Amateur

When: Tomorrow through Saturday

Where: Brae Burn Country Club, West Newton, Mass.

Who: Field of 144 players

How: Two rounds of medal play, with the top 64 players advancing to match play. First two rounds of 18-hole match play on Wednesday, third round and quarterfinals on Thursday, 18-hole semifinals on Friday and 36-hole final on Saturday

TV: ESPN, 1: 30-3: 30 p.m., Friday; 1-3 p.m. Saturday

Pub Date: 8/03/97

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
68°