'We still don't believe it's reality' 20-year-old's Open run thrills, exhausts family

July 07, 1998|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

KOHLER, Wis. -- As Jimmy Chuasiriporn buried his head into his big brother Joey's chest, the tears flowed steadily down the 10-year-old's cheeks after their sister Jenny had lost the U.S. Women's Open to Se Ri Pak of South Korea yesterday in a 20-hole sudden-death playoff.

"She'll get it next time," Joey Chuasiriporn said, putting a comforting arm around the youngest member of the Timonium family, now the toast of the golf world. "Anyway, the pro is supposed to win. Now go hug your sister."

To watch her play at the Blackwolf Run Golf Club, Jenny Chuasiriporn convinced her parents, Paul and Edy, to close Bangkok Place, the family's Thai restaurant on York Road, for a few days. When the restaurant would reopen, Paul Chuasiriporn wasn't sure.

"Maybe in a couple of days," he said, the disappointment of defeat etched in his face.

They were home last year when Jenny had finished as the low amateur in the Open at Pumpkin Ridge, near Portland, Ore.

This year, they wound up getting more than they expected and, as things turned out here, a little less as well when the 20-year-old Pak, an LPGA Tour rookie, made an 18-foot birdie putt on the second extra playoff hole to beat their soon-to-be 21-year-old daughter.

"She almost won," said Paul Chuasiriporn, who indirectly started his daughter's career when he and Edy used to drop their two older kids off at Hunt Valley Golf Club on their way to work. "We needed to be a little bit luckier. But we are very proud of her."

Except for Joey Chuasiriporn, who caddied for his sister, the family tried to stay fairly inconspicuous throughout the week. They turned down an invitation from the U.S. Golf Association to move in front of the gallery ropes to get a better view.

But yesterday, the television cameras found them and stayed focused on them, showing little Jimmy closing his eyes and clasping his hands. They showed Paul not wanting to look before Pak made the putt to win the tournament. They showed Edy nervously rubbing her fingers.

"It's the most thrilling thing that's ever happened to our family," said Joey, 11 months older than his sister and a fifth-year senior at Penn State, where he's a member of the men's golf team. "It's amazing. One day we're playing junior golf, saying this putt is for the U.S. Open. We still don't believe it's reality."

It was a long way from the days when Paul Chuasiriporn, who came to the United States from Thailand nearly 30 years ago, used to take his two young children to public courses around Baltimore and try to teach them how to play.

The elder Chuasiriporn eventually gave up the game because of his involvement in the restaurant business, but Joey and Jenny kept playing. They moved up the ranks of junior golf on the local and state level. They went on to college, where Jenny became an All-American at Duke.

She plans to return to Durham for her senior year this fall, and expects to turn pro next summer after graduation. Joey Chuasiriporn expects to graduate next year too, and would like to try to play some mini-tours. But he also plans on caddying for his sister somewhere along the line.

"Probably at the majors," he said.

While Jenny Chuasiriporn plans to go from here to Minneapolis to practice for next month's Curtis Cup, a competition between the top female amateurs from the United States against their counterparts from England and Scotland, the rest of her family will be back in Baltimore today.

As his parents walked up the driveway leading to the clubhouse, little Jimmy lagged a few feet behind. The tears were gone and he was busy talking to a reporter about the autographs of players he had collected at the Open. He had four of them, including Nancy Lopez's.

"Oh yeah," he said. "I have Jenny's, too. On a hat."

A big smile, just like his sister's, creased his face.

Pub Date: 7/07/98

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