U.S. WOMEN'S AMATEUR
Kawinpakorn Draws Inspiration From Countrywoman Jutanugarn
August 2, 2016 | Springfield, Pa.
By Lisa D. Mickey
When Ariya Jutanugarn became the first player from Thailand to win a major championship last week at the Ricoh Women’s British Open, her victory stirred hope in the hearts of other female golfers from her homeland.
Especially for Yupaporn Kawinpakorn, who is one of five Thai players in the field of this week’s U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship at Rolling Green Golf Club.
“She inspires me and makes me want to practice hard and someday join the [LPGA] Tour,” said Kawinpakorn, 25, who played college golf at the University of Kansas. “She is now a big star in Thailand.”
But there’s another reason the Lawrence, Kan.-based Kawinpakorn finds inspiration from Jutanugarn, a budding star on the LPGA Tour. Even though 2016 has been highlighted by nine top-10 LPGA Tour finishes, four wins and season earnings of more than $1.7 million for Jutanugarn, it’s what happened to the second-year LPGA Tour pro in 2015 that has resonated with Kawinpakorn, who suffered a dramatic slump in her golf game a few years ago.
As a rookie last year, Jutanugarn missed 12 cuts in 29 events, including 10 in a row. In spite of those stumbles, she fought back to also earn four top-10 finishes.
“She went through a slump, too, and missed a lot of cuts, so it showed me that everybody experiences some bad times,” said Kawinpakorn, a native of Samut Prakan. “She’s got the power, the length, everything, but because it happened to her, I know I can get through it, too.”
Nicknamed “Mook,” which means pearl in the Thai language, Kawinpakorn was one of Thailand’s young rising stars as a teenager. But the pressure of expectation crept into her game and she lost directional control of her tee shots, as well as her confidence, for several years.
“I lost belief in my swing and I had the yips off the tee box,” said Kawinpakorn, who failed to qualify for match play after rounds of 75-76. “I had no idea where I was going to hit my tee shot on every single shot.”
Kawinpakorn tried to work through the problem with her coach. Her tee shots veered right and left with unpredictable results. The more pressure she felt to correct her swing, the worse it got.
“It was bad and I really thought I was going to quit,” she added. “I told my coach that I didn’t know what I was doing anymore.”
During that time, a friend from Thailand who had been playing college golf at Kansas called to let Kawinpakorn know there was a spot on the Jayhawks team that she could probably fill if she wanted to come play college golf in the U.S.
Kawinpakorn applied to Kansas and the next thing she knew, she was packing up and heading for America’s heartland in the summer of 2012. She also refocused on solving her swing woes.
“I went back to the basics and it got a little better,” she said. “I tried to understand why I didn’t feel confident with my swing anymore or where my shots were going.”
When she practiced, Kawinpakorn tried to understand the muscle movements of her swing and how it affected her golf shots. She also tried to become more aware of how she felt each day and how her emotions affected her swing and her confidence.
But she still struggled as a freshman. During one tournament that first year, she led after the first two days, but her focus cracked in the final round.
“I got the yips again and I shot 89,” she said. “I got scared, I’m not going to lie.”
Once again, Kawinpakorn, a Buddhist, tried to calm herself down and become aware of her feelings under pressure. She also added another tool that has become increasingly vital.
“I learned how to shape shots more so I didn’t get so freaked out in a tight fairway,” she said with a laugh.
Eventually, the pressure she felt began to dissipate and Kawinpakorn, whose English is nearly perfect after only four years of speaking the language, became more comfortable in just about every situation on the golf course.
“I think the move away from expectations and the freedom she got in the U.S. did her good,” said countrywoman Virada Nirapathpongporn, who won the 2003 U.S. Women’s Amateur at Philadelphia Country Club and now coaches an elite girls’ team in Thailand, via email.
“She is a talented player and now has four years of experience playing on U.S. turf,” added Nirapathpongporn, an NCAA champion for Duke University and a former member of the LPGA Tour. “Familiarity with a place and players should help her confidence at this year’s championship.”
Kawinpakorn won five college tournaments, as well as a variety of academic and athletic honors as a Jayhawk. She was on the Athletic Director’s and Big 12 Commissioner’s Honor Roll from 2012-2016, and was a First-Team Academic All-Big 12 member in 2014.
In 2016, the honorable-mention All-American won the Exemplary Student-Athlete Award at Kansas, was voted Outstanding Woman Student in Athletics, and won the Kansas Senior Scholar Athlete Award.
Kawinpakorn will graduate this December with a degree in sport management. She has only one semester remaining at Kansas to complete her internship at a golf course.
She plans to play in the LPGA and Symetra Tour’s qualifying tournament, which begins later this month. If she moves past the first stage, she would advance into the second-stage qualifier in October in the hopes of advancing to the finals in late November in Daytona Beach, Fla.
The 5-foot-2 player knows it will be a challenge to play alongside her Thai compatriots on the LPGA Tour, a list that also includes Ariya’s sister, Moriya, and Pornanong Phatlum.
And she is appreciative of how, first, Nirapathpongporn, and recently, Jutanugarn, have paved the way for other Thai female players to follow.
“They are both legends in Thailand,” said Kawinpakorn. “Oui (Nirapathpongporn) was here in the United States for more than 10 years and she knows what kind of practice these young girls need to get better and to come to the U.S.”
“I’m so glad she decided to come back home to help the young generation,” she added. “If they have the right person to guide them, they will go far. I feel like Thai players can go as far as they want as long as they work hard.”
And what would the impact be back home in Thailand if Jutanugarn were to win a gold medal at the Olympic Games later this month?
“I think the whole country will close down and we would party the whole day,” said Kawinpakorn. “That would be really big for Thailand.”
Lisa D. Mickey is a Florida-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA websites.