Thailand's Jao-Javanil at home in Oklahoma
FRANKLIN, Tenn. – Chirapat Jao-Javanil arrived in Norman, Okla., courtesy of a mutual leap of faith. The Thailand native had never seen the Great Plains before, and “didn’t really know Oklahoma was a state in the U.S.” Likewise, head coach Veronique Drouin-Luttrell had not seen Jao-Javanil swing.
Women's NCAA Championship: Round 3
View images from the third round of the NCAA Division I Women's Championship at the Legends Club in Franklin, Tenn.
Two years later, Jao-Javanil isn’t just a member of the Sooners' team, she’s a community staple. And she’s thriving in a place where she says everything she wants is close to campus - especially the food (rest assured the sophomore has located quality Thai fare within walking distance).
Drouin-Luttrell knew about Jao-Javanil only through an Oklahoma alum from Thailand who had seen her play. Two years later, she’s the star of Drouin-Luttrell’s international roster. The Sooners also have players from Canada and Australia at the Legends Club this week.
“Sometimes it’s hard to get some Americans - the good ones - to go to college,” Drouin-Luttrell said. “They want to turn pro.”
Jao-Javanil, No. 41 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, won twice already in her sophomore year (Golfweek’s Conference Challenge and the Central District Invitational), and through 54 holes at the NCAA Championship is tied for the individual lead at 4-under 212 (69-73-70) with Arizona State's Giulia Molinaro (69-71-72). Jao-Javanil's team shot the second-best score of the morning Thursday, 7-over 295, and is tied for ninth.
In Thailand, Jao-Javanil’s full-name literally means a heart as strong and as pure as a diamond. Even though it rolls off her tongue (“Just read it - just how it’s spelled,” she says), she goes by the nickname Ja. As is popular in Asian culture, she frequently flashes a peace sign in team pictures. Drouin-Luttrell laughs at her explanation of the hand sign: bunny ears.
On Thursday, Ja’s bunny ears were highlighted with lime-green fingernail polish, but so were Drouin-Luttrell’s. The color (also on a rubber bracelet worn by the team) represents Oklahoma’s close bond with Lorelei Decker, a high school senior at Putnam City North in Oklahoma City who has stage II Hodgkin's lymphoma. Drouin-Luttrell read her story in a local newspaper, and found out that Decker, 17, is headed to Oklahoma State - she’s a golfer but doesn’t plan to play for the Cowgirls.
When Oklahoma and Oklahoma State played a dual match in April, Decker was the starter. The Sooners team recently sat in on one of Decker’s chemotherapy treatments, and she and Jao-Javanil have grown especially close. It shows that Jao-Javanil is about so much more than golf.
“She’s very mature,” Drouin-Luttrell said.
Jao-Javanil and Drouin-Luttrell walked up the 18th green together on Friday as Jao-Javanil made an easy par despite a tricky hole location. Drouin-Luttrell said she looked at the leaderboard to the side of the green once, and just shrugged her shoulders. Even Jao-Javanil says the strength of her game is her head.
“I’m not going to put too much expectation (on myself),” she said of Friday’s final round. “...Out here, everybody can strike the ball.”
But not every player can make that statement – and mean it.