U.S. WOMEN'S MID-AMATEUR
Vanderpool on Mend as She Vies for Berth in Round of 16 September 17, 2019 | Flagstaff, Ariz. By Ron Driscoll, USGA

Ket Preamchuen Vanderpool pumps her fist as she makes a putt to defeat Tina Papatolis in the Round of 64 on Monday.  (USGA/Darren Carroll)

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The Round of 32 has not been good to Schbongkosch “Ket” Preamchuen Vanderpool, but she is trying to clear that hurdle again here in the 33rd U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship at Forest Highlands Golf Club in Flagstaff, Ariz.

Vanderpool, 28, has lost three times in USGA championships at that stage. Not only that, one of those defeats was exceedingly more painful than the others.

“After I lost in the second round of the 2017 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur to Kelsey Chugg, I had severe lower-back pain,” said Vanderpool, who grew up in Thailand, played college golf at Kennesaw State University in Georgia and lives in Marietta, Ga. “A couple of days after I returned to Atlanta, I went to the emergency room because of the unbearable pain.”

Vanderpool was diagnosed with a herniated disc on L5-S1, or the lumbosacral joint. After two steroidal injections were ineffective, Vanderpool underwent surgery in August 2018. As motivation to recover, Vanderpool signed up for a qualifier for the 2019 U.S. Women’s Four-Ball the following April, joining forces with friend Melissa Loh, a native of Singapore. Vanderpool began practicing in January, and they played the qualifier in Dallas in late February.

Vanderpool and Loh got into the Women’s Four-Ball as alternates, and though they missed match play in April at Timuquana Country Club in Jacksonville, Fla., they both reached match play here and won their Round-of-64 matches on Monday. Vanderpool, who defeated Tina Papatolis, 4 and 3, on Monday, took on No. 9 seed Kelli Pry, of Coatesville, Pa., in Tuesday morning’s Round of 32.

As she seeks a berth in the Round of 16, Vanderpool is battling a sore back, something that hadn’t occurred since her surgery. Vanderpool is pretty sure that the back woes are a direct result of the hard work she has put in to prepare for this week.

“Last Sunday [Sept. 8], I didn’t know if I was going to be able to play,” said Vanderpool, who regained her amateur status in May 2017 after a brief stint on the Symetra Tour. “I don’t know if I practiced too much, but my body just locked up tight. I couldn’t do anything. I was in tears. I wasn’t sure if I could even sit on the plane to get here.”

Vanderpool put down the clubs for a few days and relied on stretching and alternating heat and ice to relieve the pain. Her system is working well so far this week.

“I have a pretty intense foam roller that I brought with me, and I just try to roll it out,” said Vanderpool. “Every movement I make, I just have to be really careful. It’s still tight, but the progress has been good every day.”

Vanderpool started stroke play with a double bogey, but she rebounded to shoot 73-75 for a 4-over-par total to easily qualify for match play as the No. 24 seed.

“I’m just trying to hit the safe shot, not try to overhit,” said Vanderpool. “I try to put myself in a good position so I don’t hurt myself. It’s a roller coaster, but I’m happy.”

Vanderpool married Matt Vanderpool, the executive director of the Georgia State Golf Association in May 2018, and he is serving as her caddie this week, just as he did for the 2017 Women’s Mid-Am. “We both love the golf course,” she said. “It reminds me of courses I played in Germany when I was a junior golfer, so it brings good memories.”

Matt was supposed to depart Arizona on Tuesday to serve as a guest speaker at a conference, but he made arrangements to stay throughout his wife’s championship run. The hope is to keep advancing to a meeting with Loh, her housemate this week.

“It feels great to be back in this event,” said Vanderpool, who helped Kennesaw State reach the NCAA regionals for the first time in 2012. “It’s the most fun tournament to play and both Melissa and I are playing really well. We’re hoping to see each other in the semifinals.”

Vanderpool recently pass the necessary exam to become a real estate agent, an occupation that she hopes will provide her the flexibility to work on her golf game. Her current goal – besides this championship – is to earn a Georgia state honor for 2019.

“Right now, I am leading the points for player of the year on the women’s side,” said Vanderpool, who was the runner-up earlier this year in the Georgia Women’s Amateur. “I would love to secure that spot for the year. It would be awesome after everything I’ve been through with my back.”

Besides her 2017 loss in this championship, Vanderpool lost in the Round of 32 in the 2011 U.S. Women’s Amateur and the 2011 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links.

“It has always been my toughest round,” she said. “I just need to stay focused, pay more attention to my own game, and try to make fewer mistakes than my opponent.”

Ron Driscoll is the senior manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at rdriscoll@usga.org.

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