The other side of history: Chuasiriporn finds happiness outside golf
Birdwood Golf Course is set within the heart of Virginia, tucked into 500 acres of wooded hills just west of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.
Within those hills, in the sticky heat of a late Southern June, two of the game's most promising amateurs squared off. University pride was on the line – the most precious currency college golfers have to risk.
The contest was simple. Make the fewest putts, you win.
A simple shirt – colored in Cavalier orange and navy – must be worn on Sunday of the United States Women's Open at Blackwolf Run in Kohler, Wisc.
Jenny Chuasiriporn laughed.
No way. No self-respecting Duke Blue Devil would ever agree to that.
Alright. The ball, then. A Dukie would have to knock around a Titlelist emblazoned with "VIRGINIA" in blue letters on championship Sunday
That was more like it.
Those Virginia balls found the hole, and Lewis Chitengwa won the bet.
The native Zimbabwean's smile was more magical than his golf swing, a mechanic so smooth it beat Tiger Woods head-to-head in a junior tournament and allowed him to become the first black player to win South African Open.
Chitengwa was destined for something more – something historic – but golf is about the moment, and in that moment, there was nothing like watching a dozen UVA logo's get stuffed into a Duke bag.
That magical smile was flashed in that June heat, and perhaps a little pixie dust went along with those golf balls a week later when Chuasiriporn honored the wager, and teed them up at the 1998 U.S. Women's Open.
No doubt that smile beamed across the country when Chuasiriporn rolled in a 45-foot birdie putt just ahead of a finishing Se Ri Pak, sabres and all.
"That was the ball that was used when I made the putt," she said.
Thing was, Pak missed her par putt minutes later, forcing a Monday playoff. Eighteen more holes, at least, to decide a winner.
How much magic was left?
"I remember that I could not lose that ball after Sunday's round, that's for sure," said Jenny's younger brother Joey in an email interview. He was her caddie for the week. "That definitely brought her some luck. A Duke player relying on UVA – that was not normal."
Jenny Chuasiriporn, the 20-year-old senior-to-be, was on fire early in the playoff and took a four-shot lead. As the round wore on however, Pak closed the gap, leading up to yet another showdown on the 18th green. Pak got up and down from the water, Chuasiriporn could not from off the green.
On to the 10th, the 91st hole of golf played that week.
Jenny turned to her brother.
"OK, give me a Virginia ball."
The reply was unexpected.
"Uh, we're out – I don't have any more."
Jenny couldn't believe it.
"I feel like that was when my luck started to run out," she said. "Then we played the 10th and 11th hole and that was when she won."
Fourteen years later, Chuasiriporn is back in Virginia, though the clubs are long since stashed away.
To say the magic she captured those two weeks in 1998 has faded would be shortsighted. Working in the Virginia Commonwealth University cardiac surgery intensive care unit in Richmond, Va., one should recognize those two weeks set her on a far more important, tangible path – but one where that pixie dust sprinkled about in Charlottesville still lingers.
"I love what I do and I think it was just as difficult, switching into a new career and walking into nursing school for the first day and walking into a patient's room," she said. "Some days I think that was more difficult than anything I ever did in golf because it was just a totally new challenge and a new everything. I'm glad I did it now because I think this is way more natural for me to do and I think that for sure is what my heart tells me to do."
Giving up golf about a decade ago was hard, yet it wasn't. Golf was what she was supposed to do, but she quickly realized it wasn't what she was meant to do.
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