At the turn of the 21st century, Virada Nirapathpongporn was one of the best amateur golfers in the country. A four-time All-America and three-time academic All-America selection at Duke University, the Bangkok,Thailand, native won the 2002 NCAA Division I individual title. In 2003, she finished runner-up to then 13-year-old Michelle Wie at the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links before claiming the U.S. Women’s Amateur title at Philadelphia Country Club, beating Jane Park in the 36-hole final, 2 and 1. Nirapathpongporn turned pro in 2004 and played three seasons on the LPGA Tour (2006-2008), but could never match her amateur success. After living in the U.S. for 15 years – she attended high school in Florida – Nirapathpongporn moved back to Thailand, where she has become involved with the Thailand Ladies Golf Association and Thailand Amateur Ladies Golf Association. At the recently completed Women’s World Amateur Team Championship in Antalya, Turkey, Nirapathpongporn, 30, served as Thailand’s captain and the team placed 27th out of 53 teams. Pete Kowalski of the USGA communications department sat down with Nirapathpongporn in Turkey to discuss her accomplishments and her present endeavors.
Question: How did you become captain of Thailand women’s team?
Nirapathpongporn: I started working for the Thailand Ladies Golf Association (TLGA) last year in April. I am in my second year with the TALGA (Thailand Amateur Ladies Golf Association) but because we work closely with the TGA as well, they asked me to look over the new national team this year, too. So, that came about in July of this year. It is too bad a professional, who is a captain, cannot give advice to the players (according to WATC rules), so here I am the non-advice captain.
Question: Are you living in Thailand full-time?
Nirapathpongporn: I have been living full-time in Thailand since March of last year in Bangkok, at home where I grew up.
Question: Is the position full-time?
Nirapathpongporn: I am doing other things. Since it’s only my second year back I haven’t established something that I do on a full-time basis. I am kind of freelance and part-time everywhere. I teach part-time at a club in Bangkok – The Royal Bangkok Sports Club – and I coach the national team – the Ladies team and the TGA one. I look after two sets of girls. I still get offers to do some corporate outings so that is fun. And I have been offered some TV, like commentating and maybe host a TV program, but that is something I am just trying now.
Question: What was the key factor in your retirement in 2010?
Nirapathpongporn: I was thinking about it since 2009. The key factor was that for a year I realized that when I was out on the course practicing or competing, my heart just wasn’t in it. And when things get really tough, that’s the one thing you need to dig down into and there is nothing to find there. So in 2010, at the end of the season I went back to [LPGA Tour] Q-School and I didn’t make it. I knew there was no point in me trying to keep going at this point because it was not going anywhere. I decided to come back. At the time, I had no idea what I was going to do next but I know not to go forward with golf at this moment.
Question: Was that a difficult decision?
Nirapathpongporn: I just knew I wasn’t going to be fully happy going forward. I didn’t know what would make me happy at the time. At least coming home would help me to regroup and see what I wanted to do. I was turning 29-30 at the time so I didn’t see myself spending a lot of days on the road in the hotel room much longer anyway. I went to the [United] States when I was 15 [to attend high school]. I was a pro for seven years but for me, I felt like I was a pro since 15. I’ve been on tour for a good 14 years of it.
Question: Is golf fun again?
Nirapathpongporn: Right now? Yeah, it is fun. I don’t take any warm-up swings when I play with my friends. If I hit a bad one, I say, “Can I have a mulligan?” (laughs). No, it is fun now. That’s one thing, I said to my Mom: “Golf used to be fun and right now I am about to hate it. I think it is time for me to stop.”
Question: What is on your list of goals?
Nirapathpongporn: Last year, when I first got back people said I should teach and I said that’s the last thing I want to do. I’ve been around golf, I didn’t want to spend my days analyzing swings and I didn’t try that. But after some situations, I wanted to play golf at The Royal Bangkok Sports Club downtown so my friend who is a member said, “You have to teach at least to play.” So, I started teaching and I have met some great people. I have fun helping people so I continue to teach for now. TALGA asked me to help develop their national team since they really didn’t have a program before. They used to qualify girls and send them to tournaments but they wanted some long-term program training.
Question: What was your course of study at Duke?
Nirapathpongporn: Psychology. So I used some of that in my training with young girls so I have learned that at different stages where they are at and how to get their attention.
Question: Do you feel like you are learning on the job?
Nirapathpongporn: Always. This is a great thing that is happening to me. I got myself out of golf but I find myself going into so many different things and meeting new people. It is just so much more interesting to me.
Question: Next year will be your 10-year anniversary of winning the U.S. Women’s Amateur. Looking back, where does it stand in your list of accomplishments?
Nirapathpongporn: Of course, it is one of the proudest moments in my golfing career. I still have a 4x5 portrait of me. I still have that up. No one can take that away from me. The first time I entered the Women’s Am was 2001 and I didn’t take notice of the trophy until 2002 when Becky (Lucidi) won it. I walked by and I told my Dad: ‘That is the most beautiful trophy and I want my hands on it.’ Becky and I, if we talked about it, we would just agree that for people like us golf will not be the only thing. We are glad we did the whole golf and college and U.S. [Women’s] Amateur stuff. It was a big part of growing up. We are moving on. That’s how I feel. It is over and done with and I am glad I did it and no one can take it away. But I am in my thirties now so I am moving on to something that’s more important to me.