Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Growing up in Thailand, Oklahoma sophomore Chirapat Jao-Javanil understood that every golf tournament she participated in was important. She always wanted to win.
Yet despite playing for the Thailand Women's National Team, Jao-Javanil had never competed for a team championship before coming to Norman. After leading the Sooners to their first Big 12 title since 2000, she now understands what winning a conference championship truly means.
"To be honest, team championships are a very foreign concept for me," said Jao-Javanil. "Even when I played for Thailand's national team, there was no conference or team championship that was the epitome of everything else. I didn't really understand the level of importance the Big 12 Championship had until we won the tournament. It's a really big deal here and where you want to be at the end of the year. All of the other tournaments were preparing us for it. This is what matters at the end, winning conference."
Jao-Javanil, known around the clubhouse and campus as "Ja", first took up the game of golf at 8 years old in her hometown of Hua-Hin, Thailand. Although she never dreamed of playing the game for a collegiate team in the United States, she began entering competitions at the age of 9. By age 11, she had won her first title - an international tournament in Florida on her first trip to the U.S.
A fluent speaker of Thai and English, Jao-Javonil graduated from a bi-lingual high school in Hua Hin an entire year early and moved thousands of miles to Norman, Okla.
Now in her second year at Oklahoma, Jao-Javanil has immersed herself in American culture - from college football to southern barbecue. One of the most unique changes that Jao-Javanil has experienced in her move to collegiate golf is becoming a contributing member of a team.
"I had played on Thailand's national team before coming here, but it's not like it is here," said the sophomore. "We didn't see each other at practice or have a coach to help us or travel together, we would just be sent to different events to represent our country. I feel like being on a team here at OU helps us push each other. It's also more fun to have the company. You can learn from other players, especially if their strong points are your weak points."
Since moving to Norman, Jao-Javanil has taken advantage of seeing a new part of the world, finding joy and adventure in even the simplest of journeys. For most, a tournament in a Midwestern state is just another road-trip. For Jao-Javanil, it's an all new experience.
"I really enjoy just going to play in tournaments with the team," said Jao-Javanil. "Every time we play in a different state for a tournament it's going to be the first time I've been there. Before college, I had only been to California and Florida. Every state we go to is eye-opening to me. The places I get to see and the people I get to meet are great opportunities all of the time."
Jao-Javanil is just one of four international golfers featured in the Sooners' eight-woman roster. Oklahoma's lineup at the Big 12 Championship boasted golfers from three different continents and four countries. Jao-Javanil was joined by Canadians Anne-Catherine Tanguay (Quebec City, Quebec) and Taylor Schmidt (Kincardine, Ontario) along with Jacki Marshall of Brisbane, Australia and Emily Collins of Colleyville, Texas.
Coming from all kinds of backgrounds and cultures, the Sooners have learned more and more about their teammates and themselves.
"I love it," said Collins. "I can learn about all of the different cultures and get to know everyone's way of life. It's really cool because a lot of us are still very similar. We're all from different places in the world, but we all go to OU, we all play golf and we all have a lot in common. We all get along really well."
Oklahoma Head Coach Veronique Drouin-Luttrell, who was recently named the Big 12 Coach of the Year, is appreciative of her team's diversity and what they bring to her team. Even Drouin-Luttrell, a native of French-speaking St. Agnes, Quebec, can take something away from the group.
"You get to learn a lot from everybody," said Drouin-Luttrell. "Not only do you learn about their culture, but their beliefs, worldviews, religion and just life in general. It's really a diverse team that feeds off of each other. We learn something new from one of our girls every day. It makes it fun for everyone."
Through almost two seasons with the Oklahoma golf program, Jao-Javanil has already significantly grown as a golfer. The sophomore tied for second at the Big 12 Championship, just one stroke out of first, earning an All-Big 12 selection for the second year in a row. Earlier this season, she posted wins at the Golfweek Conference Challenge and the Central District Invitational.
More importantly, Jao-Javanil has made a habit of using her international success to grown as a person.
"I feel like you always learn stuff from people, whether it's things that they say or certain foods that they eat," said Jao-Javanil. "People see the world in ways you wouldn't think of. Growing up I played all over the place, like in Indonesia and Malaysia, so I've really enjoyed learning about the cultures of other people and how diverse they are."
Not only has Jao-Javanil been able to experience the American culture and learn from her teammates, but she also had the opportunity to show off her home as well. Over this past winter break, former Sooner Ellen Mueller (lettered 2008-2011) traveled to Thailand with her native teammate on a two week trip.
Jao-Javanil was quite the tour guide.
"Visiting Thailand was one of the best experiences of my life," reflected Mueller. "It is a beautiful country with a rich culture and such kind people, but the best part of the trip was seeing the respect everyone there had for Ja. People would stop her on the side of the street or at restaurants and ask her for her autograph."
"Everyone respects her not only for her talent, but for how she treats people," continued Mueller. "Ja understands that without the support of her family, friends and fans, she wouldn't be successful."