REUNION, Fla. – Jaravee Boonchant came into the ANNIKA Invitational with modest expectations.
“I didn’t think I could win this tournament,” Boonchant said. “But I did my best.”
Well, Boonchant’s best proved the player wrong by a longshot, as she posted a final-round 7-under 65 on Monday at Reunion Resort’s Watson Course to race from four behind to a six-shot win at the AJGA event. Boonchant’s closing 65 was the round of the week by three shots and the lowest single-round score in the history of the ANNIKA. Elizabeth Wang and Selena Costabile posted matching 69s on Monday to finish in a tie for second at even par. First- and second-round leader Youngin Chun posted three bogeys and a double in her first six holes as she faltered to a final-round 76 and fell to solo fourth at 1 over.
Boonchant, a Thailand native who now resides in Bradenton, Fla., does have wins to her record on the IMG Junior and Legends Junior tours, but this was her first AJGA win and clearly her greatest triumph to date.
“I think this is my best win ever because I played against the best players in the nation,” she said.
How did Boonchant put such a scorching round together on a course the beguiled a loaded field – four of Golfweek‘s top five junior girls were on hand – all week? Simple, the flatstick got hot.
Boonchant, a 2017 Duke commit who is in her third year at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, had opportunities on Friday at the Watson Course but only converted a single birdie in the opening-day 75. After the round, she and Tracy Reiser, an IMG Academy assistant director and Boonchant’s frequent golf travel companion, made an adjustment to her putting stroke.
It was actually something Boonchant had been working on, a tweak where she moves her left-hand grip on the putter more into the palm of that hand. The change aids the path of Boonchant’s stroke and steers her away from cutting across putts, Reiser explained.
And the alteration paid dividends.
Boonchant made four birdies in a second-day 70 and closed with eight in her final round. Four red scores against one bogey in her first eight holes on Monday moved Boonchant into a six-way tie for the lead but she kept pushing on from there. Birdies at Nos. 11, 12 and 14 followed, and by the time she reached the 17th green, Boonchant was comfortably five ahead. She still buried her birdie putt there anyway.
All of that fed into the 65 that Boonchant, frankly, didn’t believe was out there.
“(Before today), I didn’t expect a 65, the greens were very hard,” Boonchant said. “(But) I made a lot of putts. I was very confident in my putter today.”
While Boonchant entered the week without an AJGA win to her credit, her lack of confidence ahead of the proceedings appeared a little out of place. The Thai native sits No. 14 in Golfweek’s junior rankings and the Blue Devils, Golfweek‘s No. 3 in the college rankings, certainly trust her abilities. Heck, Boonchant’s first finish of the 2016 season was a T-4 showing at the prestigious Sally.
How did she come into the week with no belief she could win?
Well, Boonchant remains rather new to the AJGA circuit. Her 2014 triumph at the Legends Tour’s Texas Girls’ Invitational put her on the map to get into AJGA events, which she started competing in last year. The Duke commit also played little competitive golf this past fall as she went through a few changes in her game.
Boonchant’s coach her entire time at IMG had been Stuart Clayton, up until last September, when he left the academy. That meant a move to a new IMG coach in Luke Cantelo, and some swing changes have come forth. Boonchant has spent more time in the gym strengthening her core and has worked with Cantelo on getting her motion fine-tuned.
“It’s been about getting everything working a little more in front of her,” said Reiser, of Cantelo’s work with Boonchant. “She gets the club really behind her if she gets too much turn.
“(If that happens), the club comes from the inside too much, and there’s a loss of distance and some inconsistent strikes. A miss left is a shot that she would see.”
Such issues were rarely apparent this week for Boonchant, who also got her clubs fitted last May and used the fall to deal with adjusting to her new set.
And now Boonchant has her breakout AJGA win, a victory that could finally get her the attention commensurate with her ranking. Even if it doesn’t, Boonchant seemed to have started on the path to developing the mentality of a champion.
“I’m very happy,” Boonchant said. “This win gives me some confidence.”
It’s about time.