Virada Nirapathpongporn, 21, of Thailand, defeated Jane Park, 16, of Oak Valley, Calif., 2 and 1, in the 36-hole final to win the 2003 U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship at the 6,386-yard, par-71 course at Philadelphia Country Club.
Nirapathpongporn became the 11th foreign-born winner of this national championship, which is one of 13 conducted by the United States Golf Association.
“I have been hungry and I am just so glad I really held it together,” said Nirapathpongporn. “I think I was really, really determined at the beginning of the week.”
Nirapathpongporn had two goals this year, she said. Winning the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links was one. She lost, 1 up, in that 36-hole final to Michelle Wie, 13, of Honolulu, Hawaii. Her second goal was winning the Women’s Amateur, a title that is now hers.
With the usual match play concessions, Nirapathpongporn was even par for the 35 holes of the match, while Park was three over par.
Park won three straight holes on the strength of two birdies and a par on the front nine, but Nirapathpongporn evened the match at the 14th on a conceded birdie, then won the 15th with a par out of the bunker, and the 16 th with a bogey after Park chipped over the green and double-bogeyed. Nirapathpongporn birdied the 17th from five feet to go 3 up in the match. Park then captured the 18 th with a par to fall just two holes down after the morning round.
Park, the longer hitter, appeared ready to win it all back after winning the 21st, 22nd and 23rd with two birdies and a par to square the match. Atthe 24th hole, a seemingly bad break stopped Park’s momentum.
With the hole cut just ten paces from the back of the green on this par-5 hole, Park hit a sand wedge from 85 yards. The ball hit hole high, pitched forward one foot, then began to trickle back until it dribbled off the front of the green, 22 paces from the hole.
Nirapathpongporn, from 73 yards, took advantage of the opening and sent a sand-wedge approach to within five feet of the hole.
Park chipped past the hole, then missed her 12-foot putt for a par, made a bogey and conceded Nirapathpongporn’s birdie putt.
Nirapathpongporn never lost the lead again. Both players put on a great short game display. They made superb bunker shots to halve the 27th hole with pars, then saved pars from in back of the 28th green where each had a difficult lie in grass trampled by the large gallery.
Nirapathpongporn went 2 up with a par when Park suffered her only three-putt of the last two rounds and bogeyed the 32nd hole. The lead held and when both parred the 35th hole, Nirapathpongporn had captured her second national championship, but her first in a USGA event.
The new champion won her first tournament in Thailand at the age of 10. At 15, she came to the USA by herself to learn more about the game. The daughter of two physicians, she lived at the David Leadbetter Academy in Bradenton, Fla. for three years before earning a golf scholarship to Duke University. Poised and graceful, Nirapathpongporn said she knew she had talent and didn’t want to throw it away.
“I am just so proud of myself of how I just have grown up the last six years, basically by myself,” she said. “I know my parents are there in Thailand, but they are very far away. They can be my guidance, they can give me emotional support, and advice, but I am the one executing, making the decisions. Just the way I have grown up the last six years, I am just so proud.”
Nirapathpongporn telephoned her parents every night during the championship. Her father, Dr. Apichart Nirapathpongporn, is suffering from leukemia and she urged him not to make the trip to Philadelphia.
“It’s so much traveling, I don’t think he would be able to handle it,” said Nirapathpongporn.
Following today’s final, Park will play in a few junior tournaments, including the Junior Solheim Cup in Sweden in September, then return to her junior year in high school on Sept. 12. Nirapathpongporn returns to Duke for her senior year and to finish her degree in psychology. She has her sights set on a professional career following graduation.
By virtue of reaching the championship match, Park and Nirapathpongporn have earned an exemption into the 2004 U.S. Women's Open, providing they remain an amateur.