U.S. GIRLS' JUNIOR
So Far, So Good as Tavatanakit Sticks to Game Plan July 25, 2017 | AUGUSTA, MO. By Lisa D. Mickey

Paphangkorn Tavatanakit will enroll at UCLA in September, then compete in her third major championship of 2017 one week later. (USGA/Steve Gibbons) 

An impressive group of female golfers from Thailand has emerged among the top performers in USGA championships over the last two decades.

Among those women with family ties to Thailand are three USGA champions, three USGA championship finalists, and one championship runner-up.

That list includes Aree Song Wongluekiet, who became the first Thailand-born player to win a USGA title with her 2-up victory over Nancy Abiecunas in the 1999 U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship.

She was followed by Virada Nirapathpongporn, who defeated Jane Park, 2 and 1, to win the 2003 U.S. Women’s Amateur, and later by Ariya Jutanugarn, who won the 2011 Girls’ Junior, 2 and 1, over Dottie Ardina.

Thai-American Jennifer Tangtiphaiboontana of California was a finalist in the 2002 Girls’ Junior, losing 4 and 3 to Inbee Park, while Moriya Jutanugarn fell, 6 and 5, to Danielle Kang in the finals of the 2011 Women’s Amateur.

Maryland native and Thai-American Jenny Chuasiriporn lost, 7 and 6, to Grace Park in the 1998 Women’s Amateur finals, but that same year, she nearly became only the second amateur winner in U.S. Women’s Open history in a legendary 20-hole playoff against eventual 1998 champion Se Ri Pak.

It’s a list that has not gone unnoticed by Paphangkorn “Patty” Tavatanakit, a competitor in this week’s U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship. Tavatanakit moved into a tie for fourth at 1-under-par 70 after Monday’s first round of stroke play. She began her second round at 12:26 p.m. CDT on Tuesday.

“It would definitely be an honor for me to join that list, but I just don’t want to think that far ahead,” said Tavatanakit, 17, when asked about potentially becoming the first Thai woman USGA champion in six years.

“I’m just trying to get to match play,” she added. “I like match play, but it’s just hole by hole, and anything can happen. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how great you’re playing.”

Born in Bangkok and based in Los Angeles-area Van Nuys, Calif., Tavatanakit got off to a bumpy start in Monday’s opening round of stroke play. She recorded three consecutive bogeys early in her round, but rebounded with a bogey-free back nine that included four birdies.

It was a good confidence boost for Tavatanakit, who competed in the U.S. Women’s Open three weeks ago in New Jersey. She was the medalist in a June qualifier at Oak Valley Golf Club in Beaumont, Calif., to advance into the Women’s Open, but at the championship she struggled to steady herself in the challenging conditions of the rain-soaked first two rounds, missing the 36-hole cut.

“I was really bad at controlling my emotions at the Women’s Open,” said Tavatanakit, currently No. 32 in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking™. “It was my first [Women’s] Open, but I still had a lot of expectations. I wanted to have an appearance with an exclamation mark, but I was too hard on myself.”

Tavatanakit said that experience taught her to try to find “positive parts” of her game whenever she struggles on the golf course, rather than beating herself up when things aren’t going as planned.

She strives to bring a different approach into this week’s U.S. Girls’ Junior.

“I have to forget about all the bad things when they happen during the round and just move on,” said Tavatanakit, who carded a 12-under-par score of 60 at age 14 en route to winning the 2014 IMG Academy Junior World Championship.

“I can be emotional, but that’s just who I am,” she added. “I’ve tried to fix it, but sometimes it comes back. I’m really trying to get to the next step.”

Tavatanakit made some giant strides in her play last season when she won the 2016 AJGA Rolex Tournament of Champions. She also competed as an amateur in last year’s Honda LPGA Thailand, where she tied for 42nd place alongside five LPGA professionals, including LPGA Tour winner Azahara Munoz – who is a 2008 U.S. Women’s Amateur finalist.

Tavatanakit won the L.A. Junior Open twice (2014, 2015) and also shattered the tournament scoring record in the 2016 Ping Invitational, where she won by six strokes and earned honors as the 2016 AJGA Rolex Junior Player of the Year.

That honor paved the way for an invitation to play as an amateur in an LPGA Tour major, the Evian Championship in France, set for Sept. 14-17.

But before she heads to France for the Evian, Tavatanakit is focused on trying to make this week’s Girls’ Junior her career-best finish in four USGA championship appearances. She advanced to the Round of 16 in both the 2016 U.S. Girls’ Junior and Women’s Amateur championships.

Tavatanakit has regularly consulted her former Thailand national-team coach, Virada “Oui” Nirapathpongporn – ever since she began traveling to Los Angeles every summer seven years ago.

The Thai amateur came stateside to play tournaments, practice both her golf and English, and hopefully receive an offer to play college golf. That dream will come true this fall when she enters UCLA as a freshman.

“Oui taught me to stay strong, to have a game plan and to stick to my plan,” said Tavatanakit, who tied for second in March at the 2017 ANA Junior Inspiration before playing as an amateur the following week in the 2017 ANA Inspiration, where she missed the 36-hole cut.

Trying not to look too far ahead, Tavatanakit guardedly admitted that she hopes to make it to the finals of this week’s Girls’ Junior to earn an exemption into the U.S. Women’s Amateur, which will take place Aug. 8-13 at San Diego Country Club.

“This is my last tournament of the summer unless that happens,” said Tavatanakit, who plans to return home to Thailand before heading to UCLA in early September.

“Right now, I’m just taking it one day at a time,” she said.

Lisa D. Mickey is a Florida-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA websites.

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