2003: Blue-chip twins nearing goal

By Jay A. Coffin

Ormond Beach, Fla.

Thai twins Aree and Naree Song Wongluekiet were having lunch following the second round of the South Atlantic Ladies Amateur last week when Naree noticed an interesting visitor in their midst.

“Hey, I think I just saw Ty Votaw walk by,” she said.

“No, you’re seeing things,” Aree responded.

Naree wasn’t seeing things. It was the LPGA commissioner, who happened to have a business lunch scheduled at Oceanside Country Club, 10 miles north of the LPGA’s Daytona Beach headquarters.

How fitting. The Wongluekiets have been on a collision course with the LPGA for quite some time, and the gap when the parties will meet is narrowing.

Votaw approached the table, extended warm greetings and congratulated the 16-year-old high school seniors on their recent decision to attend the University of Florida next fall. “I think that’s great,” he said.

Votaw and the rest of the LPGA should be downright giddy at the possibility of the Wongluekiets turning professional in 16 months. They’ll turn 18, the minimum age for LPGA membership, in May of their freshman year – probably their only college season in Gator Country. Combine the twins’ talent with that of other burgeoning young stars – Beth Bauer, Natalie Gulbis and Lorena Ochoa – and the tour is sure to have marquee players to promote for years to come.

“What they’ve done to this point in their lives is very special,” Votaw said of the twins, “and I think they made the right decision in going to college. They have a lot of potential. When the time comes, we’ll welcome them with open arms.”

Aree and Naree already have said the LPGA will be their first priority this year. They can play in four tournaments via sponsor exemptions or Monday qualifying, as well as the U.S. Women’s Open, if they qualify. Both have the skills to win an LPGA event now, and their confidence should grow after another year of maturing in college.

“I think I have the potential to win,” Aree said. “If everything falls together on a given week, I think I have a great chance.”

Said Naree, “I just need to string together four good rounds to win, instead of having my good rounds spread out.”

The duo will not be your quintessential premature professionals like the Catherine Cartwrights or Ty Tryons of the world. These girls have the resumes to back their decision when the pro game beckons. They’ve walked the walk. The past two weeks in Florida, the teens dominated their competition again, with Aree-Naree finishing 1-2 in both the Harder Hall Invitational and the Sally.

They’ve proved they can play at a higher level, too. Aree, the former U.S. Girls’ Junior champion who is nine minutes Naree’s junior and a slightly more accomplished player, has made 8 of 11 cuts in LPGA events, including a top-10 finish in the 2000 Nabisco Championship as a 13-year-old. Naree, a longer hitter by a couple of yards, has made the cut in 5 of 10 LPGA starts. Each has played on the weekend in the U.S. Women’s Open.

The Wongluekiets hit the ball plenty far enough, so length is not an issue. They are considered long on the amateur scene, averaging more than 250 yards off the tee, and would be slightly longer than average among LPGA players. On the 175-yard ninth hole at Oceanside, Naree hit a 6-iron into the wind that found the right greenside bunker. Aree hit driver, 6-iron on the 405-yard third hole, where most competitors needed metalwoods for the approach.

“I think the Wongluekiets are seasoned veterans now,” said Carol Semple Thompson, the long-reigning queen of amateur golf who has seen many can’t-miss kids in her time. “I think their concentration level is great, their work ethic is terrific, and they’re dedicated to the game and practice.

“Their mental toughness is not unlike Tiger. They’ve been brought up with the psychologists and have been taught how to think at a very young age, which is what Tiger had going for him.”

Both Aree and Naree talk openly about getting better at the mental game, but the truth is they are already head-and-shoulders above most. They are quiet in their confidence, and handle adversity when it arises. They don’t stomp around after hitting a poor shot, but simply scramble to make par.

Every day for the last four years, the twins have written entries into a notebook regarding the events of that day. What did I do well? What do I need to work on?

“It doesn’t necessarily have to be about golf either,” Aree said. “It can be about nutrition, what I ate, was I consistent with my meals?”

Naree speaks of making mental goals because “sometimes I’ll take the club out of my bag before I know what shot I’m going to hit. I need to get better at that.”

We’re talking 16-year-olds. Every parent would like to believe he or she has the next Tiger Woods, but prodigies like these don’t come along often. We should enjoy the Wongluekiets. They are the perfect blend of playful teen-agers and young adults.

They will succeed. After all, their ultimate goal is to avoid working a job that would put them in a work space.

“Every time I mention the word ‘cubicle’ we freak out,” Aree said.

Anyone who has ever seen the twins strike a golf ball know cubicles are not in their future – though they will have to work weekends. And they’re not likely to complain about the paydays.

Already, it seems everything the twins touch turns to gold. Recently, Aree put together a make-believe stock portfolio for her economics class. It yielded $4,000.

In market terms, these two are true blue-chippers.

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