| Just Say 'Oui' to Championships
|Nirapathpongporn: a name to remember
on the linksNirapathpongporn: a name to remember on the links
t five feet four inches, Virada Nirapathpongporn, or "Oui,"
is the biggest thing to happen to Duke women's golf since
last year, which says a lot about this team's tendency to
dominate. If college golf's individual title were simply passed
on from champ to champ, there needn't have been any ceremony.
Candy Hanneman, Duke's lone senior, could have easily leaned
over on the flight back to Durham and handed it to her teammate
with a "here you go, Oui," because it's been two
years since anyone who's not a Blue Devil can claim the honor.
Hanneman leaves Duke as one of the program's all-time greats,
leading the team to thirty-three victories and two national
titles while earning, among many other distinctions, the NCAA
Individual Title honors during the NCAA championships one
year ago. Her professional career began in June on the FUTURES
Tour, a fitting name for the debut of a golfer with so much
promise. As it was, Coach Dan Brooks and team all left the
Washington National Golf Course with a trophy, the trophy,
just as they did four years ago, for being the best collegiate
women's golf team in the nation.
Oui has long black hair and tanned skin. She shakes hands
firmly, but not too firmly. And if her appearance doesn't
scream athlete, it's because her demeanor isn't the type to
scream; it is everything professional--controlled and reserved
and palpably confident. As Coach Brooks has described her,
"you can never tell if she's had a real tough day,"
because she shows no emotion. "I try to stay calm. I
try not to think of too many things, just my next shot, not
so much where I'm going to hit it as how," she says.
"The thing about golf-- you have to know that you can't
control everything. Once the face of the club makes contact
with the ball, that's it, there's nothing left for you to
Besides the evident equanimity, Oui is Thai, and though nothing's
been proven, the Thai half of Tiger Woods isn't hurting him.
She was born in Bangkok, where she won the first national
tournament she ever competed in at age ten. With parents and
an older brother who played regularly, Oui was different.
"I liked swimming, not golf. They would go to play, and
I really didn't care to go with them. But, one day my brother
came back with a trophy from a tournament he took third in,
this big trophy. I said to myself, 'Ooh, I like that, that
looks good, I think I'd like one of those.'" As she says
this, she grins and her eyes narrow, and you get a sense,
that that's all it takes, that one time, perhaps, Oui heard
about this NCAA individual championship trophy or maybe saw
the one her teammate Hanneman took home the year before, and
said to herself, "Hmmm, yeah, I think I'd like one of
Two years ago, Thailand celebrated its widely revered monarch's
fiftieth anniversary on the throne. To commemorate the occasion,
the Thai government issued a new coin featuring the image
of King Bhumibol Adulyadej. People all over the country got
one or two and put them in their pockets and never bought
anything with them, not even when they were a baht short at
the vending machine. Oui still has hers. She isn't superstitious,
she assures, but whenever she marks the spot on the green
where her last shot landed, she replaces the ball with the
baht and the king is "always heads up, always."
At age thirteen, she left Thailand for boarding school in
Australia. "While I was there," she says, "I
decided I wanted to get serious about golf, so I left for
the States." Oui attended the David Ledbetter Golf Academy
in Orlando, where everyone's serious about golf, and was named
the academy's Player of the Year in 1998. She took the individual
state title in high school and, in two years at Duke, she's
already holding school records for the lowest score on 18,
36, 54, and 72 holes. She's been ACC Freshman of the Year,
first-team All-ACC, NGCA first-team All-American, and now
the individual national champion on the title winning team,
having tied the NCAA's all-time championships scoring record.
Oui isn't even considering leaving for the tour yet, she says.
"It didn't even enter my mind during the tournament,
and I think that helped me a lot, helped me focus."
Oui doesn't have to go anywhere to be professional. She just
is. A rising junior, she's going to spend another two years
at Duke, she says, with the best coach and the best team around.
And she's going to see if she can't get another one of these
trophies that look so good.