It's big brother's turn to tee it up

Golf: Joey Chuasiriporn puts down his sister Jenny's bag and sets off with his own today as he tries to qualify for the U.S. Open.

June 08, 1999|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

He has spent most of his career in the shadow of his little sister, caddying for her at the last three U.S. Women's Opens, sharing in both the excitement of her nearly winning last year at Blackwolf Run and in the disappointment when Jenny Chuasiriporn missed the cut last week at Old Waverly.

Today, Joey Chuasiriporn will try to write his own Cinderella story when he attempts to qualify for next week's U.S. Open in Pinehurst, N.C. He will be one of 81 players vying for seven spots in sectional qualifying at Canoe Brook Country Club in Summit, N.J.

Chuasiriporn, 22, had originally signed up to play yesterday at Woodmont Country Club in Rockville, but changed his plans in order to caddy for his sister in the 54th Women's Open. He practiced a couple of days at Mississippi State and used her early exit to practice yesterday near his home in Timonium.

"It would be a dream come true [to play in the Open]," said Chuasiriporn, 22, a recent graduate of Penn State who received his degree in graphic design the day before his sister graduated from Duke. "For any amateur, it's something they want to do."

Unlike his now well-known sister, Chuasiriporn does not plan to turn pro right away. Instead, after caddying for Jenny when she plays in some LPGA events early this summer, the oldest of the three Chuasiriporn children will move to Florida with hope of playing in tournaments as an amateur.

Making it through local qualifying two weeks ago at Towson Country Club, where he shot 70 and was one of nine players to move on, was a bit of redemption for what happened to Chuasiriporn during his senior year in State College. Chuasiriporn said he had some "differences" with Nittany Lions coach Greg Nye.

"He just didn't give me a chance at the end. He kind of questioned whether I was going to stick it through. But it was never a question for me," said Chuasiriporn.

A fifth-year senior, Chuasiriporn played in only one match the entire spring season. It turned out to be in the Penn Rutherford, the last home tournament and the only one the team won. Chuasiriporn played as an individual, and his scores -- including 73 and 72 the last two rounds -- counted only for personal pride.

Nye, in his eighth year at Penn State, said last night that the strain in his relationship with Chuasiriporn at the end was difficult.

"He's a really good guy, and a really fine player," said Nye. "Every good player wants a shot, every senior wants to contribute. He just didn't get it done. He was really struggling with his game. When you can only bring five guys to a tournament, you take the five who are playing the best."

Chuasiriporn's scoring average went from 79.7 as a redshirt freshman to 76.5 as a sophomore. Though his average went up a fraction as a junior, he had his best season, finishing fourth in a tournament at James Madison and having his best college round -- a 70 -- in the Big Ten championships at Michigan State.

"I think the problems started last summer," said Nye. "He spent a lot of time caddying [for Jenny] and a lot of guys passed him."

Nye believes Chuasiriporn has the talent to play professionally, but must spend less time perfecting his swing and more time playing competitively. Ted Sheftic, the Hanover (Pa.) Country Club pro who has taught the Chuasiriporns since they were in their early teens, agrees with that assessment.

"He can hit it 270 to 280. He has a great short game. All he needs is to get out there and play more," Sheftic said while following around Jenny Chuasiriporn in the Women's Open in West Point, Miss. "I think he's sacrificed a great deal of his game to help his sister. But that's the kind of family it is."

Asked if he feels he's given up his own career for his sister, Joey Chuasiriporn said: "I'd like to think I haven't. I do feel I'm helping my game when I'm out there with her learning or whether I'm hitting balls. I really don't feel like I'm losing a lot."

If Joey Chuasiriporn should make it through to the 99th Open, Paul Chuasiriporn will likely have to close his Bangkok Place Restaurant again, this time to caddy for his son. Paul and his wife, Edy, closed their York Road restaurant last week to go to Mississippi for their daughter's professional debut.

If there is any jealousy because of the attention his sister receives, Joey Chuasiriporn doesn't show it. He admits they might have their differences at times, as all siblings do, and "a lot of times, it can be tough. But she's my sister and I can't hate it [the attention she gets]. You have to be proud of what she's doing."

Joey Chuasiriporn even used that word -- proud -- after Jenny went from 3-under par after nine holes in last Thursday's opening round to 6 over before making a birdie on the 17th hole. Jenny said she would have a similar feeling should Joey qualify.

"I think it would be great," she said. She will take this week off before playing in her first Futures event next week in Durham, N.C. "He can do it. He's a good player."

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