When Virada Nirapathpongporn announced her retirement at age 28 following the 2011 Honda LPGA Thailand, into which she was offered a sponsor’s exemption but declined, it left a hole in my love of women’s golf that will be difficult for any other player to fill. I have spoken of Grace Park and Se Ri Pak as being my favorite players, and in one sense they are. But Virada, who is right up there with them, as a prominent Thai golfer with a smile of gold held a warm spot in my heart. If retirement is what she truly wants, then reluctantly I have no choice but to watch her walk away. I wish her only the best in life.
“It is tough to travel a lot and play golf. But it’s also tough to quit my favourite sport.”
“I realise that I could not play good golf these days.”
“After being away from home for more than a decade, I want to return home to take care of my mother.”
“I am thinking about doing some business connected with golf.”-Virada Nirapathpongporn
There are a growing number of golf professionals with full or partial Thai heritage including Aree Song, Stacy Prammanasudh, Ariya Jutanugarn, Pornanong Phatlum, Russamee Gulyanamitta and of course, the greatest of all the golfers with Thai heritage, Tiger Woods. It was Thai-American golfer Jenny Chuasiriporn’s playoff battle with Se Ri Pak at the 1998 United States Women’s Open that really made me start to follow the LPGA closely. I was thrilled to see not only Thai players, but all of the great players on tour. Although I might be in the minority with this opinion, I have loved seeing South Korean, Japanese, Taiwanese and other Asian players rise in women’s golf. But I have pulled for no other golfer to perform well as much as I have pulled for Virada. I think one of the reasons I list Grace and Se Ri above Virada is that the former two have been LPGA members for years, so I see them on TV a lot, particularly when they have won. Virada has had her greatest success as an amateur and on the Futures Tour, so I haven’t seen as much of her on television. Had Virada been in my living room over the years in the same way Grace and Se Ri have, she would easily top my favorites.
Her retirement is not completely out of the blue. She has had success at every level, but could not seem to break through on the LPGA. She was the 2002 NCAA Division I Championship winner, the 2003 US Women’s Amateur winner, the 2004 Nancy Lopez Award winner as the top amateur and a two-time LPGA Futures Tour Winner. She was also runner-up at the 2003 US Women’s Amateur Public Links. She was an LPGA Tour member from 2006-2008 but lost her status. She also suffered an eye injury from which it took time to recover. She also had shoulder surgery. But it seemed like in recent years, after she lost her LPGA status, she couldn’t quite get her mojo back. An article in the Bangkok Post speaks of Virada losing motivation after her father died in 2005, and I don’t doubt that left a psychological scar. Still, she maintained her card and had moments of promise for a few years after that occurred. In an interview from November 2009, it sounded like she was struggling with her game.
For now, I think she has played a lot of golf and lived away from home for 15 years. That has to have worn on her, particularly having not been able to maintain her LPGA card. But I think she has the ability to play on the LPGA. I have never seen her play in person, which is different than just the handful of shots they show on TV, but I have had conversations with those who have followed her for a whole round or 9 holes. They have said she has a great game, good mechanics, but will let a bad shot linger mentally for a few holes. That is to say, when she hits a bad shot, she sometimes doesn’t just forget it and play the next one. One bad shot can lead to several bad holes. When she finished 30th at the 2007 LPGA Navistar Classic, she had a shot to win through three rounds. She was either tied for the lead or a shot back going into the 18th hole in round 3 when she put herself in range of a makable par putt. Instead, she putted poorly and ended up with a bogey. Starting the fourth round, she bogeyed the first seven holes in succession. It was painful for her, to be sure, but also for her fans. Her first three rounds were 67-70-70. She was in reach of her first LPGA win after 3 rounds but ended up in a tie for 30th after the 4th round. I have to wonder if sleeping on that mistake on 18 in the third round led to a poor start in the final round, which ultimately ended with an 82. I think she can still play. She just has to recover quickly from bad shots. Just forget them. Nothing can be done about shots already taken.
I think Virada should consider playing the Ladies Asian Golf Tour. I know the LPGA is the dream. However, dreams can change. The LPGA might well be the best tour in the world, but it’s not the only show in town. She could play the LAGT while living at home. I think she would be a threat to win on the LAGT. After a season there, which I feel would be a successful one, she could make a run at trying to qualify for the KLPGA or JLPGA. Although she would not be at home, she would be a lot closer. But if this is it as a professional golfer for Virada (and I hope it isn’t), I will always remember her and what she has achieved. When she looks back at her entire golf life, I think she should be proud of what she has done. I sure am.