Naree became the first of the Thai-Korean siblings to win a professional womens golf tournament in the United States at the $70,000 New Innsbrook Country Club Futures Golf Classic, which she won today by two shots. Song blistered the par-72, 6,067-yard course with a tournament record tying 6-under-par 66 in the final round for a 54-hole record of 8-under 208.
I called my dad and told him I won, but I dont think he believed me, said Song, 18, who made her big move on the Futures Golf Tour one week after accepting a sponsors exemption to play with her sister on the LPGA Tour at the Sybase Classic in New York.
Even in jest, thats the way it always has been for Naree.
Aree and Naree Song, formerly known by their mothers Thai name as Aree and Naree Wongluekiet, were long considered child prodigies from the David Leadbetter Academy in Bradenton, Fla. They won so many American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) events that they turned to womens amateur tournaments and LPGA sponsor exemptions long before either could drive a car. Naree won the Florida state high school golf championship as a sixth grader. Aree won the 1999 U.S. Girls Junior Championship.
It was like a perpetual match play of high achievements without the malice of sibling jealousy. Often, the two faced off and most often, Aree won. And every single time that Aree advanced and Naree was forced into the gallery, Naree had nothing but praise and high hopes for her best-friend sister.
I would imagine that its been pretty hard at times, said first-week Futures Tour pro Virada Nirapathpongporn of Bangkok, Thailand, who met the twins at the Leadbetter Academy. Naree is very capable, but shes probably had to stay very patient.
When Aree qualified for the LPGA Tour this year and Naree left the University of Florida after one semester, qualifying for the Futures Golf Tour last fall, the two split for the first time in 17 years ' each with her own goals and new travel schedule. Their new joint plan was for each to be successful on their respective tours and for Naree to earn one of the five LPGA Tour cards awarded to the Futures Tours top five money winners at the end of the season. If their plan works and with an LPGA Tour card in Narees hand, the twins would be together again in 2005 ' this time, on the LPGA Tour.
That would mean a lot to me, as well as to Aree, said Naree. We have a lot more fun together and shes lonely out there.
But nobody thought it would be Naree who would win first ' who would break the ice and show America the prodigies were finally grown up. True, Naree became the first to win a professional title when she won the 2001 Kosaido Thailand Ladies Open as an amateur. But winning stateside in a professional event among players focused on making it to the LPGA was different. Winning against 143 other players as a pro in a global tour was a brand new level.
Shes always followed Aree and shes the most underrated of the three children in their family, said Jeff King, a former instructor at the Leadbetter Academy who now caddies on the LPGA Tour for player Candie Kung. King worked for Song last week on the Futures Tour during his week off and tried to put the win in perspective for the player he has known since she was 11 years old.
This is huge, enormous for Naree, added King. The only thing she has ever needed was to feel comfortable. This win is going to help Naree feel that comfort level.
Song began Saturdays final round at Innsbrook Country Club five shots behind leader Allison Hanna of Portland, Ore. But the player who now calls Seoul, Korea home, chipped in for eagle from 60 feet on the par-5 fifth hole, and birdied two other par-5s ' the sixth and eighth holes to make the turn at 33. When Hanna bogeyed three straight on holes 9, 10 and 11, Song took advantage of the opening with birdies on four of her last seven holes.
Her approach landed two feet above the hole on the tricky 18th green and Song was unable to convert for the final birdie. But it didnt matter. The win was all but official as she waited for the final two groups to finish.
Hanna finished at 2-over 74 for third at 211, and Malinda Johnson of Eau Claire, Wis., squeaked by for second at 210, beating her former college rival for the first time in the first week of their professional careers. Yvonne Cox of Charleston, W.Va., eased in for fourth at 212, at the popular Midwest Tour stop presented by Horseshoe Casino.
Its exciting to play well and when you win, its a bonus, said Song, who will be joined on the Futures Tour in two weeks by her older brother Chan. He plays golf at Georgia Tech and will caddie for his sister for the remainder of the summer.
Song carefully examined the blown-glass winners trophy and smiled at her champions check for $9,800. But even though she joked that her sister will get over it for not being the first of the two to win professionally, she quickly added that her goal ' their plan ' for Naree to move on to the LPGA Tour has taken a big step forward.
Now, the top five is an attainable goal, said Song, who moves to third on the season money list after six events.
And now, the teen prodigy is a professional champion.