But the four-time All-American from Duke University and 2003 U.S. Women's Amateur champion finally stepped up to lead a round for the first time this rookie season at the $70,000 Betty Puskar Futures Golf Classic. And she held the first-round lead alone at 5-under-par 67 until Melanie Holmes-Smith of Melbourne, Australia, posted her own 67 late in the day to climb into a tie for the lead.
'I haven't been in the low numbers for a while,' said Nirapathpongporn of Bangkok, Thailand, whose 67 ties her season-low round. 'Honestly, I was feeling the pressure a lot this season, but I have to blame myself for letting it happen. I just have to give myself some room.'
The former Duke star, who turned pro after this spring's NCAA Women's Golf Championship, and rookie Holmes-Smith, put some room between themselves and the rest of the field today. Only Sung Ah Yim of Seoul, Korea, posted a round in the 60s. Yim, who currently is ranked No. 6 on the Futures Tour's Money List, carded a 3-under-par 69 at The Pines Country Club in the Tour's 13th annual visit to the University of West Virginia's hometown.
'This course is up and down [hilly], longer and wider than last week's course and that is nice,' said Yim, 20, also a rookie.
Six players tied at 2-under 70 and six tied at 1-under 71. For the day, 27 players finished the first round at even-par 72 or better on the 6,287-yard course with spaghetti rough. Hit it in the fairway or on the green and players could score. Hit it in the rough and call the yardman.
Michelle Simpson of New Smyrna Beach, Fla., was among the 15 players who recorded an 'other' score on the round's statistical chart for the 209-yard, par-3 17th hole. 'Other,' as in something other than a bogey.
'I hit the green and four-putted on that hole,' said Simpson, who finished the day at 2-under 70.
But while The Pines offered the 144-player field generous fairways and smooth-rolling greens, the lengthy rough kept players focused on the short grass and on making every available birdie.
Nirapathpongporn, who has three top-20 finishes this season, got off to a good start when she holed out of a bunker on the first hole from 20 yards for birdie. She added five more birdies from a range of 4 to 20 feet, with only one bogey on the 10th hole after she failed to get up and down for par from a long bunker shot.
But the par-4 10th hole was no friend to anyone Friday, playing as the day's toughest hole and averaging 5.01 strokes for the field for the uphill 394-yard poke. It tripped up the Thai star. It also snagged Yim, who missed the 10th green.
Friday's 67 also was the season's low round for Holmes-Smith, who joined the Futures Tour during the second week of June in Lima, Ohio. She carded 25 putts today and said her opening-round score was the result of her new mental approach, thanks to help from her sports psychologist.
'It hasn't been pretty lately,' said the Aussie, whose best finish this season has been a tie for 19th in Vermont in early July. 'Usually, I'm having to make 35-foot bombs for par. But this feels very natural. Hopefully, I can go back out there and stay aggressive.'
Ditto for Nirapathpongporn, who hopes to add to her resume this week.
'I know what I have in me and I know how to use it when it matters,' she said. 'It's not like I havent been here before.'
Saturdays second round of the 54-hole tournament will begin at 8 a.m., off the first and 10th tees. The leaders will tee off at 2:09 p.m.