Chuasiriporn hits the rough

Golf: The ballyhooed young player from Timonium is visiting unaccustomed parts of the courses in her pro start, but her attitude remains faultless.

July 24, 1999|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

KILLINGTON, Vt. -- The sound has become all too familiar to Jenny Chuasiriporn. It is the unmistakable thwack that occurs when a golf ball squarely hits the trunk of a tree, which happened Thursday afternoon when Chuasiriporn hooked her drive off the ninth tee here at the Green Mountain National Golf Course.

After searching for a couple of minutes, a volunteer working at the SmartSpikes Futures Classic found Chuasiriporn's ball among some stones in a drain to the left of the fairway. Her errant shot led to a bogey to close out an opening-round, 4-over-par 76.

"It could have been a lot worse," Chuasiriporn said later, recalling the 41 she shot on the par-37 back nine.

In reality, it was just a continuation of Chuasiriporn's rocky indoctrination as a professional golfer. Ever since turning pro in early June at the U.S. Women's Open, Chuasiriporn has found herself in places she has rarely been before, with scores she used to see mostly on other players' cards.

Starting with a disastrous back nine in the first round of the Open, the 22-year-old from Timonium has struggled to regain the form that made her one of the most celebrated players in the world last summer. At Old Waverly, she watched an early three-shot lead evaporate with a five-hole stretch that included a triple bogey, two double bogeys and a bogey.

"I've never had a period where I didn't play well -- from junior golf all the way through Duke," said Chuasiriporn, a three-time first-team All-American who graduated in May. "I won't say I'm in a slump; I don't know any golfer who would. But I'm playing a different game than I'm used to."

It has resulted in Chuasiriporn's missing the cut in the four events she played on the LPGA Tour -- first, the Open and more recently in the three straight tournaments she entered with sponsors' exemptions.

She missed the cut here after starting with a bogey, double bogey in a round of 6-over 78 yesterday. That makes the second time she has failed to make the final round in three Futures events.

The problems date to the NCAA championships in May, when she began slicing her tee shots. She then began doing what golfers far less accomplished often do in those circumstances: She overcompensated and started hooking her drives. It has put a strain on Chuasiriporn's short game.

"I knew coming out of college, I had to work on my short game," she said. "I've always hit a lot of fairways and a lot of greens, but out here you have to be able to get up-and-down to stay under par. That's been good for me. I enjoy playing golf this way for some reason, doing a lot of scrambling."

If anything hasn't changed, it's Chuasirporn's low-key personality and her even temperament. While she hasn't had as much to smile about as she did when she nearly won the Women's Open as an amateur last summer, she doesn't seem depressed about her less than stellar start as a pro.

"The only difference is that I'm sort of making money," said Chuasiriporn, whose only check was for $1,930 after finishing sixth in a Futures tournament in Lima, Ohio. "It's definitely a whole different game."

Chuasiriporn has taken a markedly different route than Grace Park, the reigning U.S. Amateur and NCAA champion.

After deciding to leave Arizona State this spring after her sophomore year, Park was the low amateur in this year's Women's Open and has won two of her first four Futures events. Those finishing in the top three on the Futures money list earn automatic promotions to next year's tour; the next seven are exempted in the final stage of qualifying school this fall.

"I could have done what Grace did [by turning down the LPGA event sponsors' exemptions]," said Chuasiriporn, who at 92nd on the Futures' money list is 85 spots behind Park and headed for the first stage of qualifying next month in Venice, Fla.

"I was very appreciative of getting the exemptions. I've had a lot of fun, and I've met a lot of great people wherever I've gone."

One of those Chuasiriporn has met here is Mary Anne Levins, a 37-year-old mother of four who 15 years ago was finishing her own All-America career at Duke. She, too, caused a stir as an amateur, leading the Women's Open during the second round in 1983 and playing in the final group on Saturday before fading with a 79.

Levins played on a couple of mini-tours and lasted a year on the LPGA Tour. Pointing to her kids talking with Chuasiriporn on the practice tee, she said, "Then I headed in another direction."

Having followed Chuasiriporn's career at Duke, and watching her play here, Levins thinks her fellow Blue Devil is going in the right direction.

"It's a transition period, especially for a very nice person. You have to take that into consideration," Levins said. "I don't question the potential, and that it will come out. It's just getting acclimated. I haven't seen Grace Park yet, but of the players I've seen, Jenny has the most solid swing out here [on the Futures Tour]."

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