Sept. 30, 2010
By Larry Watts
Junthima Gulyanamitta's three older sisters remained in Thailand to attend college. But when it was her turn to pursue her studies, her family had other ideas.
"Two of my sisters, Russy and Jaruwan, were both avid golfers, but they chose to put their golf careers on hold because it's too difficult to attend school and play golf in Thailand," says Gulyanamitta, who is known as Numa to her friends. "They were taking up to 25 hours a semester, so there just wasn't time for golf."
After many conversations with her father, who teaches golf, her sister Russy, who has been on the LPGA Tour since 2004, and a few exchanges with Thailand native Onnarin Sattaybanphot, a former Big Ten Player of the Year at Purdue, Gulyanamitta was convinced attending school and playing golf in the United States was her best option. She came to West Lafayette, Ind. sight unseen in the fall of 2007 and has been making an impact for the Boilermakers ever since.
Gulyanamitta had little trouble fitting in with the women's golf program at Purdue, which has developed a history of being a mini United Nations. In addition to Gulyanamitta, this year's foreign contingent includes players from Belgium, Germany, Quebec, South Africa and India. The only two Americans make up the freshman class.
"It (Purdue) was far from home and something new, but I wasn't nervous at all," she says. "I was making new friends right away and all the players on the team connect with each other so well. It didn't take long to blend in because so many girls were from different countries. We all seemed to share a common bond, being far away from home, and we understood everything would be different."
And when it came to golf, Gulyanamitta, a member of the Thai National Team since 1999, just kept doing what she had been doing in Thailand, where she won the Junior National Championship in 2004 and 2006 and took fourth in the 2006 Ladies Amateur.
Since her arrival, Gulyanamitta has played in every tournament during the past three years for the Boilermakers. She has earned first-team All-Big Ten honors all three seasons and played a key role as the Boilers reached the pinnacle of the collegiate women's golf world last spring by claiming the NCAA championship.
"Everything seemed to fit for us in that tournament," says Gulyanamitta, who tied for ninth in the individual battle with a four-round total of 286. "We had a good team and it all seemed to come together so fast. We had good preparation during the week and went into the tournament with a great mind-set. I wouldn't say I was confident we could win it, but I was confident I could do my best and do what I had to do to help the team."
But Gulyanamitta had little time to bask in the championship glory with her teammates. Arriving back at Purdue on a Saturday afternoon, she had to report to Long Grove, Ill. the next day to play a practice round for the U.S. Open qualifier.
"I had ordered a new set of clubs for the qualifier because the clubs I was using did not meet USGA guidelines, but the new clubs still weren't in when I got back home," she says. "I wound up using the irons from a set of clubs I hadn't touched in four years and borrowed a couple of wedges from (teammate) Maude-Aimee LeBlanc."
After the second day of competition at Twin Orchard Country Club, Gulyanamitta was tied for the final qualifying spot and was forced into a sudden-death playoff. Five holes into the playoff, she dropped a 23-foot birdie putt to earn her first trip to the U.S. Open.
"I was pretty nervous for the first two holes, but after that I just wanted to get it done because it was late and I was so tired," she says. "We had already played 36 holes that day, it was 7 p.m. and we still had to drive back to Purdue from Chicago that night. I hadn't been making any putts all day, until that last one."
Although the birdie putt was the clincher, what really saved the day for Gulyanamitta was a pair of eagles, one she holed from 100 yards away and the other from 60 yards. She used the borrowed wedges on both shots.
"Unfortunately, I had to give the wedges back to Maude-Aimee," she says. "I really wasn't in the mood to do too much celebrating because she had a tough day and didn't qualify, so I felt pretty bad."
Gulyanamitta did not make the cut at the U.S. Open. But the thrill of playing in the event and on the Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club course is one she will cherish.
"It was a good experience, even though I didn't play well," she says. "I learned a lot and got to play on a great course. I don't know if I'll ever have the chance to play on that course again."
Gulyanamitta also qualified to play in the U.S. Amateur for the third time later in the summer. Eliminated in the first round during her first two trips, this time she posted three victories before falling to Canada's Stephanie Sherlock in the quarterfinals.
"My sister finished second in the U.S. Publinx one year and I've had to listen to that story over and over again to the point it's now annoying," she says. "Now I finally have some stories to tell her. I know she wants me to play better and she knows I can play on the Tour some day."
Her sister Russy, who is 11 years her senior, is currently based in San Diego and Numa says they have never played a serious round against each other.
"When we see each other, we are usually doing something other than golf," Gulyanamitta says. "We played together with my sister Jaruwan and my dad last Christmas break back in Thailand. It was a fun thing and there was a lot of joking around and making fun of each other. It was the first time we made our dad play with us. He's not a good golfer, but he's a very good teacher."
It was her father who first made Numa play golf when she was 7.
"He made me go out," she says. "He told me it wasn't that hard and I would have a lot of fun."
With the bulk of last spring's roster returning, Gulyanamitta and her Purdue teammates are the preseason favorite to repeat their NCAA championship.
"It puts a lot of pressure on the team, but all we can do is try our best," she says. "You are expected to win every tournament, but there are a lot of good teams out there, even ones who don't make it to nationals. I'll just do what I have to for my team.
Gulyanamitta, who dropped her average nearly two strokes (73.7) last year, says she still needs to work hard on her putting and approach shots. "I usually hit a lot of fairways off the tee, but I want to get my approach shots closer to the hole so I don't have so many long putts."
Sometime this winter, the Boilermaker senior plans to take advantage of the snow and make her first trip down a hill on a sled.
"It's hot and humid all the time in Thailand, so my freshman year at Purdue was the first time I had seen snow," she says. "I wasn't used to freezing weather and my mother always told me not to play in the snow so I wouldn't get sick. I wouldn't mind giving snowboarding a try, but I'm not allowed to do anything risky because I'm here to play golf."
An aviation management major with a minor in organizational leadership and supervision, Gulyanamitta is determined to give professional golf a try before she settles into airport management.
"I plan on joining the Futures Tour after graduation and later in the year I will attend qualifying school," she says. "If my golf game is good enough, I hope to remain in the United States."