Lakota West High School sophomore Natalia Sompolvorachai said she has never been more nervous on a course than when she competed in the Drive, Chip & Putt Championship at Augusta National Golf Club last spring.
Now, playing in the Ohio High School Athletic Association state tournament this weekend won’t seem so daunting after surviving the TV cameras, media coverage and the aura of The Masters’ site at the national competition in April.
Sompolvorachai qualified as an individual for the Division I state girls tournament, which takes place Friday and Saturday at Ohio State University.
She tees off at 10:40 a.m. Friday on the Gray Course, while Lakota East’s boys team — made up of seniors Will Schmidt and Ben Irvin, juniors Drew Mahon and Alex Dunaway, and sophomore Kyle Schmidt — also competes on the Scarlet Course after qualifying for the first time since 2008.
“I was really nervous a couple years ago at an international tournament in San Diego, and the next year I went back and it wasn’t so bad, but the Drive, Chip & Putt competition was the most nervous I’ve been because of all the cameras, TV people and media covering it,” said Sompolvorachai, who placed ninth in the girls’ 14-15 division at Augusta. “State will be a new experience altogether, but I don’t think I’ll be that nervous.”
You wouldn’t know it if she was anyway, according to Firebirds coach Linda Coffey.
The young golfer seems to have a calmness about her when she’s on the golf course.
“She’s very good at handling nerves,” Coffey said. “If you look at her, you can’t tell if she’s having a good day or a bad day. She’s pretty steady. On the course, she’s pretty serious about her game.
“She’s well-prepared. She’s played in national tournaments and is one of the top junior golfers in Southwest Ohio. She’s been pretty solid, and I think she’ll do very well.”
Sompolvorachai has been playing golf since age 7 when her father took her to a driving range and saw some natural talent.
Mechanics came fairly quickly for her, but she also put in a lot of work to get to where she is now. Sompolvorachai, who led the Greater Miami Conference with a 38.4 nine-hole average this season, spends at least one or two hours practicing most days. She even went to a golf lesson right after winning the GMC tournament.
“She’s a pretty determined young lady,” Coffey said. “She practices nonstop, and it shows in how she plays. She hits amazing drives, and she’s pretty much an all-around good golfer.”
Sompolvorachai said she is constantly working to improve her swing, but this past year, she especially focused on chipping and putting — the latter of which will be the key to a successful state tournament.
OSU’s Gray Course is flatter than most courses Sompolvorachai is accustomed to, and the greens play particularly fast. Fortunately, this isn’t her first time playing the course. She placed fifth there in the girls’ 14-18 division at the Southern Ohio PGA Junior Tour Championship in July.
“It’s difficult on the greens and not easy to putt,” said Sompolvorachai, who shot a 12-over-par 152 in that event. “It does give me a little confidence that I did well there, but it will be different conditions in the fall than summer.”
Twenty-two of the golfers she will be competing against this weekend scored better than her 78 at districts, though it’s difficult to compare results from other competitions where conditions vary.
Coffey believes Sompolvorachai “should definitely be in the top 10,” but Sompolvorachai has higher hopes.
“If I bring my ‘A’ game and my putting is on point, I’m thinking I can make top 5, top 10 — maybe even top 3,” she said. “I’m trying not to go in with any expectations, but I’m looking for that No. 1 spot. It’s been a pretty good year, so hopefully I can continue that this weekend.”