KOHLER, Wis. -- As her golf ball rolled as if pulled by a string to the 72nd hole of the U.S. Women's Open, Jenny Chuasiriporn felt her level of disbelief rise and rise.
This couldn't be happening to an amateur in a national championship. The 45-foot putt yesterday was perfect, heading right for the heart of the hole.
Fifteen feet before it got there, "my eyes probably popped out of my head," she said.
Then the ball disappeared into the cup. The crowd screamed. Chuasiriporn put her hands over her mouth in amazement. She needed someone to hug. Fortunately, her brother Joey, her caddie, was close by.
The dramatic birdie putt made Chuasiriporn the leader in the clubhouse for about 15 minutes, until Se Ri Pak parred the last hole to tie the Timonium resident and Duke University student and force an 18-hole playoff between the 20-year-olds today at Blackwolf Run Golf Course.
Chuasiriporn, the daughter of Thai immigrants and a Notre Dame Prep alumna, closed with a 1-over-par 72 over the demanding 6,412-yard course for a 72-hole score of 6-over 290.
Pak, an LPGA Tour rookie from South Korea seeking her second straight major championship, led by one stroke entering the round. She struggled with a 40 on the front nine but gathered herself to shoot par on the back for a 76.
While the 72-hole score is the lowest ever posted by an amateur in the Women's Open, it is the highest winning score at an Open since Jan Stephenson shot 6-over 290 to win the 1983 championship at Cedar Ridge in Tulsa, Okla.
Liselotte Neumann of Sweden hurt her chances to contend with poor putting and wound up one shot out of the playoff at 291 after a 76.
Chuasiriporn felt all week as if she had nothing to lose. Pak, the winner of the McDonald's LPGA Championship in May, rarely showed any nerves.
"That is hard to explain," Chuasiriporn said. "I can only speak for myself, but I really just tried to hit a lot of fairways and greens. I didn't have too many expectations."
Chuasiriporn began the day four shots behind Pak, but rallied and held or shared the lead from the time she birdied the par-3 eighth hole to her bogey at No. 15. When she got to the tee at the 421-yard 18th hole, she trailed Pak, who was just about to tee off at the 17th, by two strokes.
Playing in the twosome in front of Pak, Chuasiriporn hit a drive and 8-iron into 18, with the ball winding up 45 feet past the hole. While she lined up her putt, Pak was making bogey behind her, missing a 10-foot par putt, and the lead dropped to one.
Team Chuasiriporn -- Joey plays for Penn State -- worked as a team lining up the birdie putt. Joey took care of the break, Jenny the speed.
"He said to hit it about a foot left," she said. "I didn't want to think about the break because I was trying to feel the putt. I hit it the way I wanted to. I didn't expect it to go in at all. I was really thinking two-putt from there."
Two-putt? No. One-putt. Yes!
"It was so overwhelming after it went in," she said. "I turned to my brother, and he was almost in tears, so we really couldn't think straight at that point."
Meanwhile, Pak split the 18th fairway with her tee shot and knocked her approach to 10 feet. With Chuasiriporn watching, Pak's chance to win ended when the putt curled off to the low side.
"Maybe she can win, maybe I can win," Pak said. "I will do my best, the same way I played this week, the same thinking. [The playoff] will feel like a practice round, and I will feel more comfortable because I am playing against [someone who is] the same age."
The winner of today's playoff will become the youngest player ever to win the Open. Chuasiriporn, whose 21st birthday falls on Thursday, is slightly older than Pak, who won't be 21 until Sept. 28. Catherine Lacoste was 22 when she became the only amateur to win the Open, in 1967.
Age on their side
Whoever wins the playoff for the U.S. Women's Open championship today between amateur Jenny Chuasiriporn and Se Ri Pak, who are both 20, will become the youngest U.S. Women's Open champion.
Youngest champions: 22 years, 0 months, 5 days: Catherine Lacoste, amateur (1967); 22-2-4: Liselotte Neumann (1988).
Best finish by an amateur: 1: Catherine Lacoste, Hot Springs, Va., 1967; 2: Barbara McIntire (lost in playoff), Duluth, Minn., 1956; T2: Nancy Lopez, Northfield, N.J., 1975.
Jenny Chuasiriporn's four-round score of 290 is the best score by an amateur in a U.S. Women's Open:
Score, Player, Year
290, Jenny Chuasiriporn, 1998
291, Debbi Koyama, 1993
291, Carol S. Thompson, 1994
291, Cristie Kerr, 1996
291, Carol S. Thompson, 1988
Pub Date: 7/06/98