There was a young boy, no older than 11 or 12, who was eating cookies in the media room at last week's U.S. Women's Amateur at Barton Hills Country Club in Ann Arbor, Mich. This was on Sunday, during the title match between Jenny Chuasiriporn and Grace Park, the two top-ranked players in the country. In the midst of the hurly-burly, the boy asked a veteran United States Golf Association official, who has worked the event for years, "Who do you want to win, Jenny or Grace?"
The woman smiled. "Well," she said, "we are the USGA."
Chuasiriporn, the American-born child of Thai immigrants, is a terrific person and a fine athlete, and as her decision to remain at Duke for her senior year attests, more than just a walking, talking golf machine. Yet Park's dominant 7 and 6 victory over Chuasiriporn in the final was not only an inspiring triumph by one of the game's dynamic young talents but also an important lesson. "Korean golfers are just like golfers anywhere else," said Park, a sophomore at Arizona State who, despite living in the U.S. for seven years, is seen as a South Korean first and foremost. "People always make comparisons, but I am my own golfer, just as Se Ri [Pak] is her own golfer. We are completely different players."
Throughout last week's Amateur, and throughout a summer during which she has also won the Women's Western and the Women's Trans-National (she smoked Chuasiriporn 5 and 4 in the second round), Park has been peppered with questions about Pak, the LPGA rookie who has won two majors. How are you like Se Ri? How did she influence your game? Do you know her? Can you beat her? Will you join her as a pro? Will South Koreans embrace you both?
Perhaps the one person best qualified to provide some answers is Chuasiriporn, who lost a 20-hole playoff to the stoic Pak in the Open. "I don't know Se Ri very well," Chuasiriporn said, "but Grace seems nothing like her. She has more of a style. She shows a lot of emotion when she plays. She talks and smiles."
"People love to see emotion," added Mike LaBauve, Park's swing coach and, for the Amateur, her caddie. "That's what's so great about Grace. Her facial expressions tell what she's feeling, and she's not afraid of that."
For a 19-year-old college student, Park seems to be afraid of very little. After cruising through most of her bracket at Barton Hills, she faced a major roadblock in last Saturday's semifinal in Marcy Newton, the 1995 U.S. Junior champion who is a junior at North Carolina. Park rallied from three down by firing five straight birdies down the stretch to win 2 and 1. That just warmed up Park for Chuasiriporn, who had held off Brandi Miller, a Miami grad from Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., in 21 holes in the other semi.
Before Sunday's final, Chuasiriporn said she was itching to make up for her loss at the Trans National. "I told Grace, 'I want you,' " she said. Otherwise, there was little conversation between the two contestants. Park began the scheduled 36-hole match by firing a 278-yard bullet off the 1st tee and making par to Chuasiriporn's bogey. At the 509-yard par-5 2nd hole, Park reached the green in two and two-putted for birdie to go 2 up. At the 3rd, Park's par gave her a 3-up lead. Chuasiriporn never recovered. By the end of the first 18, she was 5 down and could never gain any ground in the afternoon session, which ended when Park parred the 30th hole to close out the match.
After the two golfers had embraced and congratulated each other, Chuasiriporn said she was done in by Park's fast start and her own inability to make the putts she had routinely sank earlier in the week. "I didn't have my stroke today," Chuasiriporn said. "It was frustrating, missing shots that I usually make."
Even if Chuasiriporn had played her best, it was hard to envision her beating Park, a heralded junior golfer who was named the American Junior Golf Association player of the year twice, in 1994 and '96. The 5'6", 133-pound Park is smaller than Pak (5'7", 147 pounds) but hits the ball farther. Both are weak putters, but Park rolled the ball beautifully at Barton Hills. "I really believe she's the Number 1 talent anywhere in the women's game," says LaBauve. "She'll be one of the great players."