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.
McCormick to caddie for Spieth at Aussie Open
When Jordan Spieth returns next week to defend his title at the Australian Open, he will do so without his regular caddie on the bag.
Spieth and Michael Greller have combined to win 14 tournaments and three majors, including three events in 2017. But Greller's wife, Ellie, gave birth to the couple's first child on Oct. 13, and according to a report from the Australian Herald Sun he will not make the intercontinental trip to Sydney, where Spieth will look to win for the third time in the last four years.
Instead, Spieth will have longtime swing coach and native Aussie Cameron McCormick on the bag at The Australian Golf Club. McCormick, who won PGA Teacher of the Year in 2015, is originally from Melbourne but now lives in Texas and has taught Spieth since he was a rising star among the junior golf ranks in Dallas.
While Greller has missed rounds before, this will be the first time as a pro that Spieth has used a different caddie for an entire event. Greller was sidelined with an injury last year in Singapore when Spieth's agent, Jay Danzi, took the bag, and trainer Damon Goddard has subbed in twice when Greller was sick, including this year at the Dean & DeLuca Invitational.
Spieth's torrid 2015 season traced back to his win at The Australian in 2014, and he returned to Oz last year where he won a playoff at Royal Sydney over Cameron Smith and Ashley Hall.
Rahm wins finale, Fleetwood takes Race to Dubai
Jon Rahm captured the final tournament on the European Tour calendar, a result that helped Tommy Fleetwood take home the season-long Race to Dubai title.
Rahm shot a final-round 67 to finish two shots clear of Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Shane Lowry at the DP World Tour Championship. It's the second European Tour win of the year for the Spaniard, who also captured the Irish Open and won on the PGA Tour in January at the Farmers Insurance Open.
"I could not be more proud of what I've done this week," Rahm told reporters. "Having the weekend that I've had, actually shooting 12 under on the last 36 holes, bogey-free round today, it's really special."
But the key finish came from Justin Rose, who held the 54-hole lead in Dubai but dropped back into a tie for fourth after closing with a 70. Rose entered the week as one of only three players who could win the Race to Dubai, along with Sergio Garcia and Fleetwood, who started with a lead of around 250,000 Euros.
With Fleetwood in the middle of the tournament pack, ultimately tying for 21st after a final-round 74, the door was open for Rose to capture the title thanks to a late charge despite playing in half the events that Fleetwood did. Rose captured both the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open, and was one round away from a two-trophy photo shoot in Dubai.
Instead, his T-4 finish meant he came up just short, as Fleetwood won the season-long race by 58,821 Euros.
The title caps a remarkable season for Fleetwood, who won the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship as well as the French Open to go along with a pair of runner-up finishes and a fourth-place showing at the U.S. Open.
"I find it amazing, the season starts in November, December and you get to here and you're watching the last shot of the season to decide who wins the Race to Dubai," Fleetwood said at the trophy ceremony. "But yeah, very special and something we didn't really aim for at the start of the year, but it's happened."
Battling mono, Kaufman tied for lead at CME
NAPLES, Fla. – Kim Kaufman’s bout with mononucleosis might leave fellow tour pros wanting to catch the fever, too.
A couple months after Anna Nordqvist battled her way into contention at the Women’s British Open playing with mono, and then thrived at the Solheim Cup with it, Kaufman is following suit.
In her first start since being diagnosed, Kaufman posted an 8-under-par 64 Saturday to move into a four-way tie for the lead at the CME Group Tour Championship. It was the low round of the day. She’s bidding to win her first LPGA title.
“I’ve been resting at home for two weeks,” Kaufman said. “Didn’t do anything.”
Well, she did slip on a flight of stairs while recuperating, hurting her left wrist. She had it wrapped Saturday but said that’s mostly precautionary. It didn’t bother her during the round.
“I’m the only person who can take two weeks off and get injured,” Kaufman joked.
Kaufman, 26, left the Asian swing after playing the Sime Darby Malaysia, returning to her home in South Dakota, to see her doctor there. She is from Clark. She was told bed rest was the best thing for her, but she felt good enough to make the trip to Florida for the season-ending event.
“We had some really cold days,” Kaufman said. “We had some snow. I was done with it. I was coming down here.”
How does she feel?
“I feel great,” she said. “I’m a little bit shaky, which isn’t great out there, but it’s great to be here doing something. I was going a little bit stir crazy [at home], just kind of fighting through it.”
Kaufman made eight birdies in her bogey-free round.
New-look Wie eyes CME Group Tour Championship title
NAPLES, Fla. – Michelle Wie is sporting a new look that even has fellow players doing double takes.
Bored during her six-week recovery from an emergency appendectomy late this summer, Wie decided to cut and die her hair.
She went for golden locks, and a shorter style.
“I kind of went crazy after being in bed that long,” Wie said. “I just told my mom to grab the kitchen scissors and just cut all my hair off.”
Wie will get to sport her new look on a big stage Sunday after playing herself into a four-way tie for the lead at the CME Group Tour Championship. With a 6-under-par 66, she is in contention to win her fifth LPGA title, her first since winning the U.S. Women’s Open three years ago.
Wie, 28, fought her way back this year after two of the most disappointing years of her career. Her rebound, however, was derailed in late August, when she withdrew from the final round of the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open to undergo an emergency appendectomy. She was out for six weeks.
Before the surgery, Wie enjoyed getting back into contention regularly, with six finishes of T-4 or better this season. She returned to the tour on the Asian swing in October.
Fellow tour pros were surprised when she came back with the new look.
“Definitely, walk by people and they didn’t recognize me,” Wie said.
Wie is looking to continue to build on her resurgence.
“I gained a lot of confidence this year,” she said. “I had a really tough year last year, the last couple years. Just really feeling like my old self. Really feeling comfortable out there and having fun, and that's when I play my best.”