Similar to Oscar Night, where “it’s just great to be nominated,” qualifying for the NCAA Division I Women’s Championship is a notable achievement on its own. Of course, every young woman would love to take home hardware, but as players make their way around the green carpet of college golf’s Academy Awards, it becomes apparent quickly that victory is in the eye of the beholder.
Take USC, which played its two most important tournaments of the year with one very distinct disadvantage: no fifth player. There was no luxury of tossing the high score at day’s end. All four counted – every score, every day.
The Southern Cal foursome of juniors Mikaela Parmlid, Becky Lucidi, Yon Yim and sophomore Anna Rawson carried the Trojans’ banner to the West Regional, securing the final qualifying spot for nationals by four shots. The quartet then marched to Washington National, where they topped 10 teams to finish 14th.
Their understanding of each other came only after an intense team-building session this spring. But despite having heritages separated by oceans (Lucidi is American, Parmlid hails from Sweden, Rawson from Australia and Yim from Korea), they found ways to build bridges.
They were prepared for the challenge when they learned senior Leila Chartrand, suffering from chronic sciatica, was pulling herself from the lineup two days before regionals.
The news did little to deter the remaining four, who shot 292 the final day to secure their spot in Washington.
“It was such a great feeling that day to make it as a team,” said Parmlid, who likely would have advanced as an individual otherwise. “It’s really been the four of us all year, and I wanted it to be the four of us going to nationals.”
With growing trust in each other and diminished room for error, players latched onto their newfound nerve.
“I found myself getting mentally stronger because I knew my score was going to count,” said Yim, who shot a career-best 72 on the final day at nationals.
They even rejected the idea of filling out their roster with a fifth player from their walk-on list, confident on their own and pragmatic about having more attention from coach Andrea Gaston. Rawson said being at nationals that way was “like it’s meant to be.”
Fate seemed to have its hand on the other end of the spectrum as well. As the Duke Blue Devils captured their second national title in four years, trophies were just icing on the cake for sophomore Virada “Oui” (pronounced “Ooh-wee”) Nirapathpongporn. The 20-year-old Thailand native triumphed over the best field of the year for the individual title, but her reward was not the first-place plaque. Rather, it was the smile of the man she loves most, her father, Apichart.
In February 2001, Apichart was diagnosed with leukemia and told he would need a bone marrow transplant. He found his donor (his brother) a month later, but told doctors he would not have the transplant until after he spent the summer with Virada as her caddie. Father and daughter crisscrossed America, playing their way through the amateur circuit. Together they forged through six events and made it to the quarterfinals in the Women’s Western, U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links and U.S. Women’s Amateur. They took home the champion’s trophy at the Trans National Amateur in July, and all the while, Virada knew nothing of her father’s illness.
He broke the news on the plane ride home, and Virada was in disbelief.
“You cannot die,” she said simply. “You must see me succeed.”
Alone in his hospital room, isolated while chemotherapy killed off his entire immune system, he told himself he must stay strong. Eight months later, he walks the path by his daughter’s side and sees a parallel between them.
“I tell myself, ‘I will fight. I will win this battle.’ . . . Now Oui must stay strong,” he said.
“But,” he added, nodding his head, “I think she already knows.”
Said Virada: “He’s shown me if you put your mind to something, you can accomplish anything.”
For the record, Nirapathpongporn means “many blessings for a healthy family.” It’s a translation that holds more meaning than Virada and her father ever expected and more truth than any trophy ever could.