By Johnny Moore, GoDuke The Magazine
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- It is 9,107 miles from Bangkok, Thailand to Augusta, Georgia, half way around the world from where Duke golfer Jaravee Boonchant first learned to play golf with her father at a local driving range.
However, Friday, as she strolled up the fairway at Augusta National Golf Club, finishing her practice round, spending some time chatting with Golf Hall of Famers Anita Sorenstam and Nancy Lopez and shaking hands with Augusta member and former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, this native of Bangkok looked right at home at Augusta.
“It is very challenging, but a lot of fun to play,” said the Blue Devil sophomore, who heads into the final round of the Augusta National Amateur in a tie for eighth place.
Boonchant is five shots back from leader Jennifer Kupcho, a senior at Wake Forest University, who captured the NCAA women’s championship last year and is currently the No. 1 ranked women’s amateur in the world.
The two are familiar with each other, having faced off last year in the ACC Championship. Boonchant helped to lead her Blue Devils to the team title, the 21st in school history as she and Blue Devil senior Leona Maguire tied for the individual lead with Maguire winning in a playoff. Kupcho finished in fourth.
And while this is an international field of the top women’s amateurs with a leader board filled with not only American flags, but flags from Thailand, Japan, Korea, France and Mexico these are also college players from Arkansas, Arizona, Kent State, Texas and UCLA to just mention a few.
Boonchant is one of three players from Thailand invited to the event. Her two even par rounds at Champions Retreat sent her to the final round at Augusta National on Saturday along with another native of Thailand and friend Pimmipa Panthong who stands tied for third at three-under-par. Pimmipa plays collegiately at Kent State.
While she is a long way from home, Boonchant fits very well with this current Duke golf team. A graduate of IMG Academy, she brings a very positive outlook to the team.
“She has a great personality and everyone gets along with her,” said senior Blue Devil Virginia Elena Carta, herself from Udine, Italy. “She is like a little sister to me.”
“Javaree has a magnetism about her,” explained Brooks. “When you have left your home, left your country, you need people. That has encouraged her to be the person she is.”
She has used that magnetism and positive attitude, along with a very nice golf swing and solid putting stroke to place herself in position to contend for one of the most coveted trophies in women’s amateur golf.
In just her second season as a Blue Devil, she has already amassed a very impress list of accolades with a third team All-America and All-ACC selection as a freshman and her outstanding play in last year’s ACC Championship. Her 71.62 stroke average last year was the second lowest for a Duke rookie in school history.
She currently stands 25th in the world amateur rankings and may have a special weapon for Saturday’s round at August.
Her caddie, Johnny “Chili” Estay is in his fourth season caddying at Augusta National and carried for her in the first two rounds at Champion Retreat on Wednesday and Thursday.
“I depended a lot on my caddie today to figure out the speed of the putts and where to aim,” explained Bouchant. “His reads were very important. Figuring out the breaks and where to hit approach shots to the greens, was great information on very tricky greens. Having a caddie that has caddied here all the time was very helpful.”
“She has a great game and really wants to learn and understand,” added Estay. “She is in good shape for tomorrow.”
When ask about Saturday’s final round and the fact that she is in position to catch the leader Boonchant just gave that beaming smile and said she would be looking forward to going out and having fun tomorrow.
Just another Saturday of golf – but this time it will be a very historic one. A day she will forever remember as one of the first women to play competitive golf at Augusta National.