Virginia Beach, Va. – When many college graduates decide to take a year off before entering the workforce or starting graduate school, a common activity is backpacking through Europe.
Thuhashini “Tui” Selvaratnam was an uncommon graduate of Arizona State University in 1999, so she took off to Asia to play golf tournaments. She started in her native Sri Lanka, where she won the Sri Lanka Amateur for the third time. She then went to Singapore, where she won the amateur championship, followed by Hong Kong, China, Thailand and so on. She kept winning in more countries until she won the United Arab Emirates Amateur in early 2000.
“I just wanted to relax and take some time off,” said Selvaratnam, who lost in the quarterfinal round of the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur at Bayville Golf Club. “So I started playing all these amateur events in Asia. I won 11 national championships in seven months.”
That number of different championships may be a record, but nobody knows for sure. But Selvaratnam does hold one distinction verified by the ultimate arbiter: Guinness. The next time you’re looking to recoup your losses from an on-course wager, ask your opponents to name the youngest national golf champion.
After fielding guesses like Tiger Woods, Michelle Wie and Alexis Thompson, just be prepared to not stumble over Selvaratnam’s name. She was 12 when she won her first Sri Lanka Amateur.
Having confounded trophy presenters around the world and with her wanderlust sated, Selvaratnam returned to Arizona in 2000 to work at the Arizona Golf Association on a P.J. Boatwright Jr. Internship. And she kept playing, collecting enough trophies and points to be named the player of the year by the Arizona Women’s Golf Association (AWGA) for 10 consecutive years, from 2001 to 2010.
“She’s a legend in Arizona women’s golf,” said Mary Pomroy, the executive director of the AWGA. In addition to her playing credentials, the 35-year-old Selvaratnam has contributed to golf in the Grand Canyon State by serving on the AWGA’s board.
“Having played all over the world, Tui brings a lot of golf knowledge to our organization,” said Pomroy. “She provides input to our tournaments and she connects well to our younger players.”
Selvaratnam has forged a strong connection to golf’s next generation with her current job as the golf coach at Xavier College Preparatory in Phoenix. Founded by the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the only all-girls school in Arizona, Xavier has the most dominant scholastic golf program in the country. Under the guidance of Sister Lynn Winsor, the team has won 28 state titles since 1980 and alumnae include Heather Farr, Grace Park, Amanda Blumenherst and Cheyenne Woods.
Sister Winsor, also the school’s athletic director, now shares coaching duties with Selvaratnam, an arrangement that allows the Sri Lankan native to play in championships around the country like the Women’s Mid-Amateur and the upcoming Women’s State Team at The Landings Club in Savannah, Ga.
“She’s great with the girls,” said Sister Winsor, who started coaching in 1974. “She’s so knowledgeable about the Rules, and she knows the ins and outs of the short game. I value her very, very much.”
Although her position doesn’t allow the kinds of international trips she used to take – Selvaratnam hasn’t been to Sri Lanka in nearly three years – she has been able to play tournament golf during the summer and into the school year.
“I enjoy coaching,” said Selvaratnam. “I get to share my experiences. And the school is very supportive and that’s why I get to play in events like these.”
Few amateur golfers have played in as many countries as Selvaratnam has. “Golfers are similar everywhere,” she said. “Golf brings everyone together and it becomes a smaller world.”
After settling in Arizona and the United States – she is in the process of becoming a U.S. citizen – Selvaratnam has wanted to add to her tally of national championships by winning one in the biggest golf country in the world.
She has come close. She was a semifinalist in the 2004 Mid-Amateur and lost in the final in 2006 to Meghan Stasi.
“I will keep trying to get that one elusive championship,” she said. “Golf is a fun sport. I hope to keep playing and one of these days. Right?”