For a brief few days in 1998, a 20-year-old amateur by the name of Jenny Chuasiriporn stood at the apex of women’s golf. In fact, she very nearly deprived Se Ri Pak of her first major championship, pushing the South Korean to the second hole of a sudden death playoff to decide the US Women’s Open
A career as a leading light of the LPGA Tour appeared inevitable.
And then nothing.
Golf, it turns out, has a curious way of confounding expectations.
It’s only now, on the eve of the US Open’s return to Blackwolf Run, the scene of her heroic near-miss, that Chuasiriporn makes a return to centre stage.
This time, however, she doesn’t stand apart as a paragon of sporting excellence, but as living testament to the impermanence of its rewards.
She rarely swings a club these days and played her last competitive round a little over six years ago.
Fans are conditioned to ask where it all went wrong, but for Chuasiriporn, professional golf never really felt right.
Financial insecurity, a deep-rooted aversion to the sacrifices required of the elite athlete, travel: her life on Tour soon degenerated into a feedback loop of anxiety and guilt.
“I got to a point where I didn’t feel good about it because of how hard [my parents] had worked to make a living and what they had sacrificed to help me,” she told Lisa D. Mickey of the New York Times. “I felt like I was just wasting their money.”
Formerly a player defined by her carefree demeanour and unencumbered, even naive, enthusiasm for the game, Chuasiriporn was soon lost to minitour ennui and a soul-sapping pattern of diminishing returns.
It was only on the sudden death of a close friend, the Zimbabwean golfer Lewis Chitenga, that she succeeded in placing her struggles within a broader context.
“I think that helped me realize how short life was and how I needed to do what I wanted to do to be happy… I had lost the balance in my life. I loved golf, but I didn’t love it that much for every decision I made to revolve around golf or around me, me, me.”
Chuasiriporn returned to university in 2005, where she earned the first of her two degrees in nursing. She now works as a nurse practitioner, providing care – often end-of-life care – to the chronically ill.
To those who contend she resorted to Plan B, the 34-year-old offers an inflexible, if polite, riposte:
“Sometimes I do wonder where my life would be now if I had won that Open… But I actually think I would be right where I am. It just might have taken me longer to get here.”