- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 10, 2000

From U.S. Open darling to mini-tour dud, Jenny Chuasiriporn has spent the last two years watching her career careen toward oblivion.
If the 1998 golf season had to be defined by just one image, it undoubtedly would be of Chuasiriporn, hand over mouth in unabashed shock, just seconds after she jarred a 40-footer on the 72nd hole of the U.S. Women's Open to force a playoff with South Korea's Se Ri Pak.
The 20-year-old Chuasiriporn, until then an unknown amateur from Timonium, Md., pushed the professional Pak for 20 holes before falling the following day. Pak had taken the trophy, but Chuasiriporn had charmed the masses, drawing comparisons to a young Nancy Lopez for her endearing playing persona.
Somehow, that girlish smile still hasn't soured, even as the promise of the '98 Open has given way to a two-year tailspin.
"Things are always good, even though it's been a little bit of a down year. I have had my share of bad rounds and just down times, I guess, but I don't want to focus on those," said Chuasiriporn last week as she prepared to play a Futures Tour event in York, Pa. "I mean, I definitely have not peaked this year. I'd say it's been an off year an off year and a half probably. But even Tiger Woods and other people have those lulls."
Well, not exactly. A lull for Woods is a week without a win; Chuasiriporn has found the Marianas Trench of women's golf.
Since she turned pro after graduating from Duke with a degree in psychology in the spring of 1999, Chuasiriporn has missed the cut in all five of her LPGA Tour starts and recorded just one top-10 finish in 14 starts on the Futures Tour.
In theory, the Futures Tour is the LPGA's answer to the Buy.com Tour, the PGA's major mini-tour feeder. In reality, the Futures Tour is a poorly funded developmental disaster. It makes stops in anonymous burgs like Spring, Texas; Young Harris, Ga.; Bolivia, N.C.; and Colts Neck, N.J., and features unknown courses like Lost Creek CC (Lima, Ohio) and Western Turnpike GC (Guilderland, N.Y.).
Unlike the Buy.com Tour, which promises its top 15 money leaders a PGA Tour card, the Futures Tour extends the equivalent LPGA carrot only to its top-3 finishers. And unlike the Buy.com Tour, which grants an immediate PGA Tour card to any player who wins three events in a single season, the Futures Tour features no such battlefield promotion.
In terms of purses, the gap between the two developmental tours is equally astounding. The top 10 finishers on the Buy.com Tour (then Nike Tour) money list earned an average of $187,716 last year. The top 10 finishers on the 1999 Futures Tour money list averaged just $29,084. Subtract road expenses for the 20 stops on the Futures Tour (between $500 and $1,000 per week), and even the top players on the tour net next to nothing.
For a player like Chuasiriporn, who has missed the cut in five of 10 events this season and ranks 120th on the Futures Tour money list ($1,077), financial subsistence depends almost entirely on external sources. Most assume that Chuasiriporn must have parlayed her exposure at the '98 Open into a slew of lucrative endorsement deals. But Chuasiriporn, who split with her management group in March, claims she has never seen such benefits.
"I went with a management group coming right out of college. They didn't have any endorsement guarantees or anything, but it felt like the right way to go, because if I did make it big, if I did make it onto the LPGA Tour, then I would probably need it in that transition," said Chuasiriporn. "They didn't get me anything really. I think it was kind of a waiting game with them. I don't want to disparage anybody, but the situation was that most of the things they had lined up were contingent on me making it to the LPGA.
"The situation was that I wasn't playing well. It's pretty simple: when you play well, things come to you. I wasn't able with their setup to capitalize on the situation. First, it was kind of a waiting game to see if I would make the LPGA, and I didn't. And then it was another waiting game to see what would happen from there. That's not what I wanted in my life. I just wanted to start on my own. It's been really tough. My parents are pretty much supporting me right now."
Chuasiriporn's parents, Paul and Edy, own an award-winning Thai restaurant in northern Baltimore called Bangkok Palace. Jenny knows her parents can't bankroll her LPGA dream forever, but she tries not to fixate on the financial strain her career is creating for her family. She has learned over the past 14 months that the stress caused by the need to succeed can psychologically cripple a player.
"This September after Q-School I was so down. I was literally ready to take the year off," said Chuasiriporn. "I was playing with so much fear and anxiety in my swing. I was just scared of the ball, and I was missing shots that were just off the world hitting horrendous shots that I had never hit before. Part of it was the exposure of the Open. People were expecting me, and I was expecting myself, to be playing at this certain level. And I wasn't there."
Chuasiriporn still "isn't there," carding consecutive 77s at Briarwood Golf Club (York) last week to miss yet another Futures cut. But the 23-year-old refuses to let her repeated failures on a second-tier tour sabotage her spirit.
"My swing has definitely been coming around. It's better than it's ever been. It's definitely better than it was at the '98 Open," said Chuasiriporn. "Now I just have to get mentally to that level where I can go out there with all the confidence in the world and just hit greens, keep making birdies and shoot the scores that I was shooting not long ago just a year and a half ago.
"Right now, I can say I'll be doing this forever, at least until I get to the level I know I can get to. I won't quit, because I feel like I'm going to eventually come out on top."

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