Chuasiriporn gets second, not second wind in Amateur Park gets early jump, tops Timonium golfer in 36-hole final, 7 and 6

August 17, 1998|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- She was down five holes to Grace Park when she walked off the 18th green early yesterday afternoon, halfway through the scheduled 36-hole final in the 98th U.S. Women's Amateur. A birdie on the last hole had given Jenny Chuasiriporn some confidence.

It had also renewed the hopes of her parents, two brothers and a cousin who had driven all night from Timonium to watch her play.

"Anything can happen," her father, Paul, said as he walked into the clubhouse to join the family for lunch.

"I knew there was still a lot of golf left to be played," she said later. "I wasn't worried."

Joey Chuasiriporn reminded his younger sister how Tiger Woods had been down six holes and had come back to win the first of his three straight Amateur titles. But there was a difference about what was happening at Barton Hills Country Club.

After putting on some Tigeresque performances in getting to the final -- including making three straight birdies to force sudden death in her semifinal victory over Brandi Miller on Saturday night -- Chuasiriporn had a slight problem.

Park was doing her own Tiger imitation.

"She was very Tiger-like," said Mike Lebauve, Park's caddy and teacher.

Crushing 300-yard drives and putting with more precision than she had in a long time, the 19-year-old won the first three holes of the match and never looked back. It was only a matter of time before Park closed out Chuasiriporn, 7 and 6, in the most one-sided final since 1986.

It marked the second time in five weeks that Chuasiriporn had finished second in a national championship, and the second time she had been beaten by a player from South Korea. But unlike her tense, 20-hole playoff struggle with Se Ri Pak in last month's U.S. Women's Open, this one was never close.

"I wasn't really nervous," said Chuasiriporn, 21, who contributed to her early deficit by three-putting three times in the first six holes and missing putts of 4 feet or less three times on the front nine. "I just didn't think I had my [putting] stroke today. It was pretty shaky all day."

Park's putting was always solid and often spectacular. She made four birdies and only one bogey in the morning round, then added two birdies with one bogey in 12 holes they played in the afternoon. The day seemed to be summed up by what happened on the seventh and 10th holes in the afternoon.

Five holes down through 24 holes, Chuasiriporn nearly holed a footer for birdie at the par-4 seventh, the ball stopping a revolution short of the cup. Park's 25-footer rolled up to the hole and fell in on its last turn. Chuasiriporn then missed twice from 3 feet on the par-5 10th, turning a potential birdie into a bogey.

"That's the way it went," Chuasiriporn said of the seventh hole.

The outcome was painfully reminiscent for Chuasiriporn ofher 5-and-4 defeat to Park in the second round of The Trans, a prestigious California event the week after the Open. That day, Park was 5-under in the 14 holes they played and went on to win the tournament.

"It was pretty similar," Chuasiriporn said with a slight wince.

The victory was the first USGA title for Park since she came to this country as an 11-year-old, living with an aunt in Hawaii for two years before moving in with a South Korean family in Phoenix for another couple of years and later being joined by her parents, who took turns living with her in Arizona.

"It feels awesome," said Park, a sophomore at the University of Arizona who became the first player to win the U.S. Amateur, Western Amateur and The Trans since the legendary Patty Berg did it 50 years ago. "I don't think I need to show that much emotion. I'm happy. Everyone knows how happy I am."

Chuasiriporn didn't seem too disappointed in losing a match between the two players widely considered the best amateurs in the country. She had made it to the final of the Amateur after being knocked out early in both of her previous attempts.

"It's actually the best I've played in a long time," Chuasiriporn said. "I thought I hit the ball really well today."

It also marked the end of a summer in which she officially introduced herself to the golf world. She planned to caravan back home with her parents after driving here last week, with a stop in Niagara Falls for a few days of vacation before going back to Duke for her senior year.

"It's been a crazy summer," she said. "I'm ready to wind it down. I'm ecstatic that I can do something for women's golf."

Chuasiriporn admitted that fatigue might have been a factor yesterday, and as she sat on the podium at the awards' ceremony after the matches, Chuasiriporn seemed a little worn out. But the moment she was asked to say a few words after receiving her silver medal, the familiar smile was back on her face.

Looking at the medal, and then at the crowd, Chuasiriporn said, jokingly, "I have a pair of these."

She paused and said: "I wish it could have been a little closer."


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