From Thailand to Kent, up-and-coming Panthong adjusts to college golf, American culture

Kent+States+Pimnipa+Panthong+poses+with+her+trophy+after+coming+in+first+place+at+the+BYU+at+Entrada+Classic.+The+Flashes+finished+second+out+of+14+teams.

Kent State’s Pimnipa Panthong poses with her trophy after coming in first place at the BYU at Entrada Classic. The Flashes finished second out of 14 teams.

Amanda Levine

At first, Pimnipa Panthong wasn’t interested in coming to Kent State. Her main goal was to immediately play professional golf.

At the time, coach Greg Robertson and assistant coach Maddi Swaney had another golfer who committed to the Flashes, but decided at the last minute she didn’t want to come. Facing the possibility of losing a player, Swaney believed the team should try pursuing Panthong again.

Robertson flew to Thailand during July to watch Panthong play and meet her and her parents. From there, Panthong made the decision to attend Kent State. She packed her bags and left behind the culture she knew to pursue a new beginning in college golf.

In addition to meeting with Robertson, she also met with teammate Wad Phaewchimplee. Phaewchimplee is from Bangkok, Thailand’s capital city, and took Panthong under her wing to help her adjust to the U.S.

“When I first came here, my English wasn’t good, so I was scared to talk,” Panthong said. “(Phaewchimplee) gave me advice on how to talk and about the culture here.”

Phaewchimplee showed Panthong the ropes of Kent — where to eat, the classes to take and helped her learn English.

“Having somebody from your country that you could talk to that was a senior helped (Panthong),” Robertson said. “(Phaewchimplee) had been through it for three and a half years and could show her how things worked and just kind of basically be a big sister for that first year.”

Panthong began playing golf at age 10. She was a part of the Thai national team where she met future teammate and best friend Thitapa Pakdeesettakul. Pakdeesettakul will be attending Kent State in Fall 2018 to play golf. Panthong said she is looking forward to Pakdeesettakul joining the team.

“She’s my best friend,” Panthong said. “I’m looking forward to playing golf with her and doing some fun stuff together.”

Although golf is an individual sport, the team still encourages one another to do well. They travel together, practice together and some players even live together.

“We still play our own game, but it’s fun having teammates and traveling together,” Panthong said. “It’s a new experience. It’s an individual sport, but still you have to trust and believe in each other.”

Panthong is living with two teammates and friends, Julia Goodson and Karoline Stormo. Goodson and Panthong decided to live together after last year when they met through golf and lived in the same residence hall. Goodson describes Panthong as very sassy and sarcastic off the course, but when she’s on the course, she is positive and uplifting.

From golf and from living together, the two have grown to know each other very well. Goodson was also able to help Panthong when she struggled with her English. When Panthong is stuck on a word, Goodson can step in and help her complete her sentence.

“If she can’t think of a word from the context, I’ll offer up some options,” Goodson said. “It’s so funny because we got to the point where we knew each other so well where she could do hand motions and I could be able to guess it.”

Whenever the three roommates travel to the golf course, they blast Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” in the car. It’s their favorite song, and they know every lyric from the five minute, 55 second song.

“We literally know all the lyrics to it,” Goodson said. “Whenever we’re driving somewhere, all the teammates, all of the freshmen, we just turn up the volume and sing as loud as we can.”

Panthong’s first tournament with the Flashes was the Mercedes Benz Intercollegiate. She finished in first place. She now ranks 39th in the country, and in 2017, she won Mid-American Conference golfer of the year and freshman of the year.

Robertson said Panthong’s biggest strengths are driving the ball and her iron play.

“College golf didn’t phase her,” Robertson said. “Coming to a university, being away from home, … and then from there, she ended up being an all-American her freshman year — second team All-American. It was a pretty smooth transition.”

Panthong said one thing she struggles with is her mental game. She is working on being more cautious on her shots. Panthong said one reason for mental mistakes is “course management.”

“I have to try not to hit a risky shot,” Panthong said. “(In a par-5), I got in trouble, and I just have to lay up.”

Panthong’s favorite course is the The Entrada at Snow Canyon in Utah. She likes it not only because of the layout but because of the significance. The Entrada at Snow Canyon was also where the movie “High School Musical 2” was filmed. Panthong grew up watching the movie and was excited to go back to the course after struggling in last year’s tournament.

“It’s a beautiful golf course,” Panthong said. “Last year, I didn’t play well on one hole, and this year I want to go back and do well.”

The Flashes went back to the course for a tournament in early March, and Panthong finished in first place.

Her success doesn’t stop at the awards. On March 15, Panthong was picked by a committee to participate in the Arnold Palmer Cup. She will join Herb Page, Kent State’s men’s golf coach, in representing the international team. The Arnold Palmer is one of the most prestigious tournaments in college golf.

The Arnold Palmer Cup is a co-ed tournament with two teams: Team USA and Team International. There are three ways to be invited to the tournament: automatic picks, committee picks and coaches’ picks. Each team is made up of men and women from all over the world who play college golf.  The tournament will be in France, a country Panthong has never visited.

When Panthong first arrived in Kent, Phaewchimplee walked her around campus and downtown. She introduced her to the city and gave advice on the best professors. Just a few years ago, Panthong came to America not knowing what to expect, having never played college golf and speaking in broken English.

Now, Panthong’s favorite type of food to eat is Mexican, her favorite place downtown is Peace, Love and Little Donuts, and she’s one of the best players on Kent State’s up and coming women’s golf team.

Amanda Levine is a sports reporter. Contact her at [email protected]