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Oui captures Amateur championship

GLADWYNE, Pa. -- Senior Virada Nirapathpongporn is returning to campus this week with a few souvenirs from her summer travels.

Namely, a gold medal and the Robert F. Cox Women's Amateur trophy.

The rising Duke senior captured the 2003 U.S. Golf Amateur championship Aug.10, with an impressive 2 and 1 victory over 16-year-old Jane Park in the 36-hole match play finals at the Philadelphia Country Club.

It was the first-ever Amateur championship by a Duke player, and the Thailand-native's second major title: She won the NCAA Individual Championship in 2001 as she guided the Blue Devils to their second team title.

"I knew I had the game all along to play with the pros," Nirapathpongporn said. "But I had to show the mental toughness. I did that this week."

Nirapathpongporn used a stellar putting game and tight short iron play to outdistance a feisty Park, who showcased a prowess of her own on the greens to keep the match close throughout.

The two traded leads through the first 18-holes, with the Blue Devil taking a 2-up lead into the afternoon. She won the 19th hole, but then dropped three of the next four to bring the match back to all-square.

"I'm thinking this can go anywhere," Park said. "I'm feeling pretty good after I made the putt on [23]."

Nirapathpongporn then birdied the par-5 24th and 30th holes to secure a 2-up lead that she would not relinquish.

"I knew, if I stayed focused on my game, I'm the best player," Nirapathpongporn said. "And the best player wins."

Although Duke head coach Dan Brooks was on hand to watch, Nirapathpongporn's father, Dr. Apichart Nirapathpongporn, who is suffering from leukemia, did not make the trip at her daughter's urging. After securing the victory, an emotional Nirapathpongporn dedicated the win to her father.

Nirapathpongporn and Park each earned an exemption into the 2004 U.S. Women's Open, providing they retain their amateur status--questionable for the Duke star, who could turn pro after next year's NCAA championships, when Duke will once again be a favorite.

Earlier this summer, Nirapathpongporn lost 1 up in the 36-hole final to 13-year-old Michelle Wie at the U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links tournament, and missed the cut by one stroke at the U.S. Open, making the Amateur win even more satisfying.

She also finished third this week at the York Newspaper Company Futures Classic in Pennsylvania, behind winner and recent Blue Devil graduate Candy Hannemman.

Current teammates Liz Janangelo and Leigh Anne Hardin also competed in the Amateur. Hardin, a senior, did not make the match play cut of 64 players, while Janangelo was knocked out in the first round of match play.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.