Newcomer leads Hunt to Big East golf win

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Yes, she’s the real deal.

Junior Plern Rattanagrakarn, an exchange student from Bangkok, Thailand, turned heads and created a buzz when she debuted for the Hunt High School girls golf team and posted a nine-hole score of 38 in a tune-up match at Willow Springs Country Club last week.

The Lady Warriors returned to Willow Springs on a hot Tuesday afternoon and Rattanagrakarn, situated No. 1 in the lineup, responded with a 3-over-par 39 to trigger Hunt to victory in the first of six 3-A Big East Conference matches.

With Rattanagrakarn the medalist, the Lady Warriors carded a 139 for their three low individuals, followed by Southern Nash at 161, Franklinton at 203 and Fike at 211.

Northern Nash and Rocky Mount did not show. However, the field did include Beddingfield of the 2-A Eastern Plains Conference and the Lady Bruins came in at 184.

Hunt coach Jeff Boykin, with a grin, said he is being roasted by his coaching peers for his good fortune of having Rattanagrakarn wind up at his school. Already, talk is circulating of high expectations for his 2018 team after it fired a school-record 131 in last week’s match.

“We are just playing golf one match at a time,” Boykin declared. “But we are really thrilled to have a player of her ability join us. She is super nice.

“Her approach to the game is really impressive. She knows exactly what she wants to do with every shot. She’s in a new country and it’s quite an adjustment. But she’s got a lot of support (from her teammates) and she’s going to do great.”

Rattanagrakarn, a golfer for some nine years, noted she played for her school team in Thailand. The aspiring diplomat described the courses as longer and more difficult and the greens as “like putting on glass.” The 5-foot-2 16-year-old assured the weather in Thailand is hotter than the dog days of summer in the U.S. and said she wore sleeves and leggings to help prevent her complexion from becoming darker.

Starting her round via a shotgun start on No. 4, Rattagrakarn ended her afternoon with a birdie on the par-5, No. 3 layout. The round included four pars and four bogeys.

“Pretty good,” she reviewed her round. “It’s weird because, in Thailand, we shoot 18 holes. The (Willow Springs) course is not too long and the layout is not too hard.”

The medalist was complemented by senior Sarah Bunn, last year’s individual Big East runner-up, with a 44 and freshman Ashton Barnes with a 56.

Southern Nash was led by junior Elisabeth Collie, the conference’s 2017 player of the year, with a 48. Samantha Bishop shot Franklinton’s low round of 61, while Fike got a 70 from Abby Norris and Mallory O’Brien.

The afternoon’s fourth-lowest score was a 55 from Beddingfield newcomer Ellison Taylor.

Rattanagrakarn’s emergence has resulted in a new dimension on the league’s individual chase. Collie and Bunn find themselves chasing.

Boykin said Bunn is really rising to the occasion.

“This is great for us,” Bunn commented of her new teammate’s arrival. “We have a better shot at going to the regional and even to the state — and (a state team appearance) is something that hasn’t been done in a long time, maybe ever.

“This is also really good for me. I have more motivation to work toward something. She’s good — really good. She knows her stuff and knows it really well. But I know I can compete with her. I will have to put in more work. One more thing needs to click. Once it does, I’ll be there.”

Collie admits she’s struggling and remembers the first time she saw Rattanagrakarn, she reacted: “What is this?”

“She’s really good and I respect her as a player,” Collie continued. “I’m embracing it and, hopefully, it will make me compete harder and become a better player. I will continue to work hard. It’s kind of another challenge.

“Golf is really hard. It’s the hardest game in the world mentally. But I feel like I’m close. A couple of things are throwing me off.”

Rattanagrakarn, with a career 18-hole low of 72, reported she’s enjoying her one-year home, adding: “My teammates are really nice. I love Sarah; she’s pretty good. I feel like I need to work on my chipping and putting. I just want to shoot my best.”