Munching down on her routine pre-tournament breakfast of bacon, egg and toast, Jaravee Boonchant scrolls through her music library, trying to find the perfect beat to get herself into a rhythm before tee-off. Of course, she superstitiously skips over “Loser” by BIGBANG in her playlist, a song she blames for a loss in high school.
Gripping onto her golf ball marked by the number “1,” Boonchant finishes up her pre-tournament ritual, a quirky routine that has led her to own a 71.95 career stroke average entering this season, the third-best in Duke history. And after spending a full calendar year in her native Thailand due to COVID-19 concerns, Boonchant is looking to take over first—she finally returned to campus March 2 and is competing in her first tournament of the season this Saturday and Sunday.
But K-Pop and lucky golf balls aren’t the whole equation to Boonchant’s success. Rather, the greatest asset to her game is her mentality on and off the course that cultivated her confidence and patience. A believer in turning adversaries into opportunities, Boonchant lives by her philosophy that “if you are patient enough, you will get the results you want.”
For Boonchant, this meant training her mental game ever since she started playing golf as a six-year-old in Bangkok, Thailand with her father.
Boonchant recalled in a December 2019 podcast that she was an “emotional” golfer when she first started playing.
“I would be extremely happy when I made a birdie, and extremely mad when I made a bogey,” Boonchant said on the podcast. “It affected my game a lot. After one bogey, I wouldn’t be able to calm myself down and I would get more and more bogeys.”
Yet, as Boonchant found the individual nature of golf especially appealing to her young competitive spirit, she started to contain her emotions and learned different mental strategies to limit the distractions around her game. As each swing became more of a lifestyle than a hobby, she would actively train her attention to focus more on the target she was aiming toward and her mental confidence to move on from her previous mistakes, rather than just working on her physical techniques.
By sharpening her mind, she was able to develop the sheer will and fighting mentality that impressed Duke head coach Dan Brooks. The seven-time national champion has noticed Boonchant’s growth in maturity over her years in Durham as well, especially as it relates to her short game.
“A lot of short games aren't due to technique with your wedge or with your putter,” Brooks said. “It comes down to having a lot of will to put the ball closer to the hole and her will is very strong. She is as tough of a competitor as I [have] on this team.”
Boonchant attributes some of her personal growth to her decision to immigrate to the United States in 2013 to attend IMG Academy, a world-renowned prep sports institution. Having made the difficult decision to be separated 9,418 miles away from her home country, Boonchant had to balance her new life in America without her family close by, while still focusing on her academics and golf.
“It was very difficult at first,” Boonchant told The Chronicle. “I learned some English in Thailand, but I wasn’t that great so I would still have hard times trying to communicate with my friends. I also came one month late into the semester, so that also made the adjustment hard in the new environment.”
At the same time, however, Boonchant believes that her pursuit of the “American Dream” strengthened her in the long run, admitting that the greater competition in the United States pushed her to improve her game.
While many other individuals would’ve struggled to adjust to this sudden change as a freshman in high school, Boonchant was quick to show her resilient mindset. She was named IMG Academy’s Top Female Golfer in 2014 and 2016, and in the latter year secured a victory at the ANNIKA Invitational, posting the lowest single-round score in the history of the invitation-only tournament that features only the top junior female golfers from around the world.
A National Champion
While Boonchant has collected countless accolades during her collegiate career, including All-American nods each of her first three seasons as a Blue Devil, perhaps the highlight was her contribution to Duke’s 2019 NCAA Championship.
As a sophomore, Boonchant was tasked with match playing against the former No. 1 ranked amateur golfer in the world, Wake Forest’s Jennifer Kupcho. After falling short against Kupcho in the first two rounds, Boonchant didn’t let those losses affect her mentality going into the final round.
“Coach Brooks put her up against Wake Forest’s best player all three rounds...but to beat the No. 1 amateur in the world in the last one that counted the most—well, we otherwise wouldn’t have won the national championship,” team spokesman Lindy Brown said. “Some players might’ve got down on themselves after losing the first two rounds, but she stayed confident and did what she had to do.”
Yet, when asked about how she overcame the pressure going into the third round after her initial shortfallings, Boonchant, without hesitation, gave all the credit to her teammates.
“My teammates never gave up on me, and they always cheered for me,” Boonchant said. “That helped me get through.”
A year back in Thailand
Coming off the national title run, Boonchant started off the 2020 campaign on a tear, leading Duke with nine even or under par rounds out of 13 total. However, the season was cut short after only two tournaments, with Boonchant making the decision to fly back home to Thailand and staying there for the fall semester due to the complications of flying halfway around the world back to Durham amid COVID-19.
Not only did she have to face the difficulties of logging onto her Zoom courses at midnight and 4 a.m., but she also had to work on her swinging technique while physically away from the Blue Devil coaches. Despite this abrupt change being away from campus and her teammates, it was also an opportunity for her to spend time with her family, something that had been difficult since first coming to the United States as a high schooler.
As an individual who got her start to golf by wanting to spend more time with her dad as a child, Boonchant’s return home thus became a chance to catch up with her dad again. To this day, she echoes the inspiring role her father played throughout her golfing career.
“He has a great influence on my golf game today,” Boonchant said. “I would call him everytime after I competed in a round to talk with him about how it went and such.”
While COVID-19 definitely caused an abnormal transition between Boonchant’s junior and senior year, if we’ve learned anything from her past experiences, it’s that she’ll quickly adapt.
For now, though, she's gradually getting back to pace with her team and her college athlete lifestyle, turning to the Korean drama Mr. Queen and her academic coursework as comfort during this process. With her eyes set to bring Duke an eighth NCAA Championship this season, Boonchant will look to summon her inner Mamba Mentality-esque mindset to try and lead the Blue Devils to the promised land once more before she graduates this semester.
“She’s become the type of mature individual who I think can make it at the LPGA tour exhibition [after graduating],” Brooks said.
Hence, Boonchant’s final dance as a Blue Devil this season will definitely be one worth watching.
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