Nirapathpongporn Ready for Futures Tour
I feel like Ive been waiting for this and preparing myself for this day for a long time, said Virada Nirapathpongporn, a four-time NCAA All-American at Duke and a native of Bangkok, Thailand.
Nirapathpongporn, better known by her friends as Oui (pronounced Ooo-Wee), or perhaps more appropriately for future leader boards as NP3, will become one of the Futures Tours more recognizable names this season. And it likely wont be as much for her 16-letter name as it will be for the kind of professional player she could become over the next 13 tournaments if past history is any indication of future promise.
At the only Futures Tour tournament she played last year as an amateur invitee, she tied for third at the season-ending York Newspaper Company Futures Classic, where she shot a final-round 68 and posted more birdies on the final nine than her former Duke teammate and the tournaments winner, Candy Hannemann. Hannemann won the champions prize check, but Nirapathpongporn won the side bet for dinner that night.
The rookies amateur record also includes some impressive highlights: winner of the 2004 Nancy Lopez Award as the worlds most outstanding female amateur; winner of the 2003 U.S. Womens Amateur Championship; runner-up at the 2003 U.S. Womens Amateur Public Links Championship (to Michelle Wie); Individual winner of the 2002 NCAA Womens Golf Championship and member of Dukes 2002 NCAA Womens national championship team.
At last weeks 2004 NCAA Womens Golf Championship, Nirapathpongporn finished tied for sixth individually and Duke placed third in the team competition. She retains the womens scoring record at Duke University for 18 holes (65) and 72 holes (279).
Going to college and playing college golf was never a question for me, said the 22-year-old player, who also was an NCAA Academic All-American. I wouldnt trade that experience for anything because I got the best of everything. I got a good education and I played on the No. 1-ranked college team all four years I was there. And honestly, I feel that I needed all of those four years to prepare myself and to mature.
Nirapathpongporns maturation process in golf got off to a good start when she spent three years at St. Stephens High School in Bradenton, Fla., where she also attended the David Leadbetter Academy with twins Aree and Naree Song, Hannemann and another former Futures Tour alumna Miriam Nagl.
Competition among the players was keen and all made their marks at the junior level. But more importantly, the Thai native built a very solid, fundamentally sound golf swing that translated into on-course performance. Her calling card became consistency, which was apparent at last weeks college nationals where she finished at 1-under-par 287 with rounds of 71-72-72-72.
Its not like we played bad, but we just didnt get anything going, said the Duke collegian.
Just as she has labored over the years to simplify her golf swing, Nirapathpongporn plans to enter her rookie season on the Futures Tour with simple goals. She wants to make the adjustment to the next competitive level. She hopes to quickly adjust to the traveling tour-golf lifestyle and to playing week after week in more consecutive tournaments than she has ever played. She wants to win a tournament. She hopes to play well enough in the remaining 13 events to earn one of the Tours five 2005 LPGA Tour cards.
Ill take it step by step because there are many little steps I have to make, she said. The Futures Tour is just a miniature LPGA Tour. I could try to get sponsors exemptions for LPGA events this summer, but I think that playing on the Futures Tour will prepare me better. Taking the next step to a higher level is just a matter of experience.
Nirapathpongporn paid careful attention last year to how her friend Hannemann and a former collegiate competitor, Katherine Hull of Pepperdine University, played in the 2003 Futures Tour season. Hannemann, a two-time 2003 winner, began her year dividing time between the LPGA and Futures Tours, but settled on focusing her efforts to earn one of the LPGA exemptions by playing solely with the Futures. Hull, who also won twice last season, played well, but fell short of earning one of the five LPGA Tour cards.
I did learn from what theyve done, said Nirapathpongporn. I know I can play on this level, but I also know it will be a good challenge.
Fortunately, this player likes challenges. Shes risen to the top of every level shes ever faced in both golf and academics. She is even featured in the current June issue of Golf Digest Magazine in a story that focuses on the new fitness level of todays collegiate players. Nirapathpongporn is photographed in the magazine pumping iron in the weight room. She may be small in size and gentle in spirit, but she has never shown that she is afraid to tackle anything.
Oh, I think everyone does have fear, but thats why you go out and work hard, she said. This season will be all about pacing myself and learning new things.
The player will travel with her mother, Supranee, for the next few months. Virada hopes that her game will bear out the Thai meaning of her first name: purity. As she increases the number of rounds she plays week after week, she hopes the Thai definition of her familys surname, Nirapathpongporn, continues to translate into its meaning: healthy family.
And whether she becomes known simply as Oui, her childhood nickname, or as NP3, the pseudonym that will fit leader boards at all levels, Nirapathpongporn is sure to at least be tested by all tongues who care about the future of womens golf. The Thai tongue twister is sure to become a fan favorite.
Playing here this season is an outcome thing because I want to get one of the top five exemptions, she said. But more than that, Im going to enjoy this whole journey.
DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi
ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.
The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.
''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''
In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.
''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''
The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.
''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''
The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.
Kuchar joins European Tour as affiliate member
Months after he nearly captured the claret jug, Matt Kuchar has made plans to play a bit more golf in Europe in 2018.
Kuchar is in the field this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told reporters in advance of the opening round that he has opted to join the European Tour as an affiliate member:
Matt Kuchar— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) January 17, 2018
"It's been a passion of mine to explore & see the world, and I'll now be joining the European Tour as an Affiliate Member, which is very exciting." pic.twitter.com/7wDbuGXz8j
As an affiliate member, Kuchar will not have a required minimum number of starts to make. It's the same membership status claimed last year by Kevin Na and Jon Rahm, the latter of whom then became a full member and won two European Tour events in 2017.
Kuchar made six European Tour starts last year, including his runner-up performance at The Open. He finished T-4 at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in his lone European Tour start that wasn't co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.
Hot Seat: Rory jumps into the fire early
The world’s top tours head to desert regions this week, perfect locales for The Hot Seat, the gauge upon which we measure the level of heat the game’s top personalities are facing ...
Sahara sizzle: Rory McIlroy
McIlroy won’t have to look far to see how his form measures up to world No. 1 Dustin Johnson at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
McIlroy will make his 2018 debut with Johnson in his face, literally.
McIlroy will be grouped with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood in the first two rounds.
Players like to downplay pairings early in a tournament, but it’s hard to believe McIlroy and Johnson won’t be trying to send each other messages in this European Tour event in the United Arab Emirates. That’s the alpha-dog nature of world-class players looking to protect their turf, or in the case of McIlroy, take back his turf.
“When you are at the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Trevor Immelman said about pairings during Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge last month.
And that was an offseason event.
“They want to show this guy, ‘This is what I got,’” Immelman said.
As early season matchups go, Abu Dhabi is a heavyweight pairing that ought to be fun.
So there will be no easing into the new year for McIlroy after taking off the last three months to regroup from the stubborn rib injury that plagued him last season. He is coming off a winless year, and he will be doing so alongside a guy who just won the first PGA Tour event of 2018 in an eight-shot rout. Johnson’s victory in Hawaii two weeks ago was his fifth since McIlroy last won.
“Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place, and that was because of where I was physically,” McIlroy said of 2017. “I feel prepared now. I feel ready, and I feel ready to challenge. I feel really good about where I’m at with my health. I’ve put all that behind me, which has been great.”
Sonoran Smolder: Phil Mickelson
Mickelson will turn 48 this summer.
His world ranking is sliding, down to No. 43 now, which is the lowest he has ranked in 24 years.
It’s been more than four years since he last won, making him 0 for his last 92 starts.
There’s motivation in all of that for Mickelson. He makes his 2018 debut at the CareerBuilder Challenge in the Palm Springs area this week talking like a man on a renewed mission.
There’s a Ryder Cup team to make this season, which would be his 12th straight, and there’s a career Grand Slam to claim, with the U.S. Open returning to Shinnecock Hills, where Mickelson finished second in ’04.
While Mickelson may not feel old, there are so many young stars standing in his way that it’s hard not to be constantly reminded that time isn’t on his side in these events anymore.
There has only been one player in the history of the game to win a major championship who was older than Mickelson is right now. Julius Boros won the PGA Championship when he was 48 back in 1968.
Campaign fever: Jordan Spieth
Spieth’s respect in the game’s ranks extends outside the ropes.
He was just selected to run for the PGA Tour Player Advisory Council’s chairman position. He is facing Billy Hurley III in an election to see who will succeed Davis Love III on the Tour’s Policy Board next year.
Spieth, just 24, has already made Time Magazine’s list of the “100 Most Influential People.” He made that back in 2016, with the magazine writing that “he exemplifies everything that’s great about sports.” Sounds like a campaign slogan.
CareerBuilder Challenge: Tee times, TV schedule, stats
The PGA Tour shifts from Hawaii to Southern California for the second full-field event of the year. Here are the key stats and information for the CareerBuilder Challenge. Click here for full-field tee times.
How to watch (all rounds on Golf Channel):
Thursday, Rd. 1: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream
Friday, Rd. 2: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream
Saturday, Rd. 3: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream
Sunday, Rd. 4: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream
Purse: $5.9 million ($1,062,000 to winner)
Courses: PGA West, Stadium Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,113); PGA West, Nicklaus Tournament Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,159); La Quinta Country Club, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,060) NOTE: All three courses will be used for the first three rounds but only the Stadium Course will be used for the final round.
Defending champion: Hudson Swafford (-20) - defeated Adam Hadwin by one stroke to earn his first PGA Tour win.
Notables in the field
* This is his first start of 2018. It's the fourth consecutive year he has made this event the first one on his yearly calendar.
* For the second year in a row he will serve as the tournament's official ambassador.
* He has won this event twice - in 2002 and 2004.
* This will be his 97th worldwide start since his most recent win, The Open in 2013.
* Ranked No. 3 in the world, he finished runner-up in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.
* In 37 worldwide starts as a pro, he has 14 top-5 finishes.
* Last year he finished T-34 in this event.
* Last year in the third round, he shot 59 at La Quinta Country Club. It was the ninth - and still most recent - sub-60 round on Tour.
* In his only start of 2018, the Canadian finished 32nd in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.
* Only player on the PGA Tour with five top-10 finishes this season.
* Ranks fifth in greens in regulation this season.
* Finished third in the Sentry Tournament of Champions and T-4 in the Sony Open in Hawaii.
* Making only his third worldwide start since last June at the Travelers Championship. He has been recovering from a chest injury.
* This is his first start since he withdrew from the Indonesian Masters in December because of heat exhaustion.
* Hasn't played in this event since missing the cut in 2015.
* Earned his first career victory in this event in 2014, shooting three consecutive rounds of 63.
* This is his first start of 2018.
* Last season finished seventh in strokes gained: putting, the best ranking of his career.
(Stats provided by the Golf Channel editorial research unit.)