Big-name player makes her way to the top at NCAA women's golf championship

Friday, May 25, 2012 at 12:23am

Her name is full of syllables and filled with special meaning.

And if she can stay atop the leaderboard for one more day, Chirapat Jao-Javanil will have a place in history.

“Almost every Asian would have a nickname because all of our first names are supposed to mean something. So it tends to be really long,” the Thailand native said. “Mine actually means, ‘A heart as strong and as pure as a diamond.’ It is a good meaning. I’ll take it.”

The Oklahoma sophomore had no complaints after she shot a 2-under par 70 on Thursday and shared the three-round lead with Arizona State’s Giulia Molinaro at the NCAA Division I Women’s Golf Championship at Vanderbilt Legends Club in Franklin.

“I didn’t really expect it,” Jao-Javanil said. “I felt like I played good but I mean don’t really know how low other people are going so I just hoped for the best.”

Jao-Javanil and Molinaro sit at 4-under par for the tournament and tee of in separate pairings on Friday, starting at 12:37 p.m. One stroke behind them is LSU’s Tessa Teachman and Chattanooga native and Alabama senior Brooke Pancake, who dropped three strokes and fell from the top spot.

The Crimson Tide (+13) stayed in the lead for the third straight day. But a margin that was as big as 15 strokes Wednesday shrunk to a two-shot lead with Southern Cal nipping at their heels.

After an encouraging second round, host Vanderbilt regressed on Thursday. The Commodores, who started the day in 10th, shot a 23-over par 311 to fall to 37-over and into a tie for 16th.

“Rough day,” Vanderbilt coach Greg Allen said. “Just a terrible start. We played 16 like we had never seen the hole before and put three balls in the water. We just couldn’t stop the downward spiral.”

Jao-Javanil, who goes by “Ja,” was one of just three golfers in the 126-golfer field to shoot under par on Thursday.

The 19-year-old started golfing 10 years ago as she grew up on a golf club called Palm Springs in the town of Hua-Hin, which is 60 miles south of Bangkok.

“I think the golf cart attracted me at first. I started there,” Jao-Javanil said. “My dad kind of asked me, ‘Do you want to come?’ And I kind of picked up some skills and thought it could be good. I’m an only child too so it’s the only sport you don’t require a team. So it kind of makes sense.”

Two years ago she didn’t know Oklahoma was part of the United States. But Sooners coach Veronique Drouin-Luttrell got wind of her through an OU connection, former men’s golfer Bill Hildenbrand.

“We decided to bring her on campus,” Drouin-Luttrell said. “We took a chance and it turned out pretty good.”

If she can fend off Molinaro and company for 18 holes, Jao-Javanil will show the college golfing world what Oklahoma already knows – she was worth the gamble.

Not to mention, she’ll force everyone to reach for the pronunciation guides.

“Just read it how it’s spelled,” Jao-Javanil said. “I feel like people try to overthink it. It’s long but just go with the alphabet. You’ll be fine.”