Hunt Valley rallies 'round Chuasiriporn Member's grace, attitude stick with club members

U.S. Women's Open

July 07, 1998|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

The small crowd gathered inside the pro shop at Hunt Valley Golf Club stared at the small television set and held its breath.

Jenny Chuasiriporn, one of the club's young members, was stepping up to putt for a birdie yesterday that could make her the first amateur in 31 years to win the U.S. Women's Open.

Before she had left for Kohler, Wis., where the tournament was staged, locker room attendant Bob Wilkenson had shined Jenny's shoes, made them so shiny that her little brother Jimmy, 10, who came to pick them up, didn't recognize them.

"You tell Jenny, this will cut a couple shots off her game," Wilkenson had said.

Chuasiriporn and Se Ri Pak had already played an 18-hole playoff to get to this point and were now into the second hole of sudden death. Now, as the crowd in the pro shop watched, they hoped this would be one of those shots the shoes would help.

Chuasiriporn struck the ball and as it rolled toward the hole, someone yelled, "Go in, baby!" But it didn't go in. That brought a collective "Ohhhh," a sound so deflating that it felt like the room would simply collapse around these Jenny supporters, as they exhaled their disappointment.

When Pak made her shot to claim the victory, the sound in the pro shop was that of silence.

All afternoon, they had cheered and sighed over the exploits of their Jenny. Little groups of them had gathered around the various TVs around the club. When she lined up a shot, they'd whisper to each other, as if she might hear and be disturbed.

"It gives you goose bumps," club pro Greg Jones said to a golfer who inquired how Chuasiriporn was doing.

From out on the Hunt Valley course, where private tournaments were being played, to the pro shop, she was being discussed -- and praised.

"She's genuinely one of the nicest people here," said John Shaw, 17, who was kept busy answering the phone most of the afternoon. "People kept calling just to ask how she was doing. I'd tell them, but you kind of wanted to say, 'Turn on your TV, it's really exciting.' "

Debbie Pavesich and her two daughters, Emily, 11, and Elizabeth, 7, were glued to the television at the club all afternoon.

"I bought four newspapers this morning, just so I can get Jenny to autograph them," she said, in between cheering and calling her husband to update him on Chuasiriporn's progress. "That entire family is so sweet. She's the kind of person you want good things to happen to."

Emily and Elizabeth rooted throughout the near five-hour playoff for the young girl they consider their mentor. And when she finally lost, they both looked glum.

"I'm so disappointed," Emily said. "But she did good. She had a good attitude."

Attitude is important to Debbie Pavesich, who noted more than once that no matter what happened during the playoff, Jenny kept smiling.

"Even after that triple bogey, she was able to smile," said Pavesich. "You want your children to try their best, but you don't want them to get a big head doing it. I think Jenny is a good role model. She's showing she's enjoying it."

Chuasiriporn, who will celebrate her 21st birthday Thursday, has been a club member since 1988, and though she takes her golf lessons from Ted Sheftic in Hanover, Pa., she has come up through the ranks here taking clinics and playing junior tournaments. Along the way, she obviously has made a lot of friends.

"Jenny's just like you see her there," said Jim Jones, the father of club pro Greg Jones. "She's a cordial girl."

Most here were willing to admit that when Chuasiriporn left for the Open, no one expected her to win -- or even finish second. But they were all adamant in insisting that they did expect her to do well. After all, she had been top amateur at this tournament last year. And once she made the playoff and started yesterday with back-to-back birdies, they really did think she would win.

"But how can you be disappointed?" asked Shaw, hanging up the phone one more time. "She had a great run -- particularly for an amateur."

For anyone.

Pub Date: 7/07/98

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