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Published: Tuesday, 8/3/2004

The letter winner: Lone Thai on tour is in Farr

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Her toughest task this week will not be the golf. It will not be threading a knock-down 5-iron under tree branches and over a creek and between bunkers and stopping her ball on a firm green.

No, the golf is comparatively easy.

The real job is signing her autograph.

She doesn't even sign her first name, instead using just the initial. But when she's done, with a little smiley face at the end, her autograph measures 5 1/4 inches from end to end. Really.

Her name is Russamee Gulyanamitta. Try to get that across the back of a caddie bib.

It has almost as many letters as Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic, which is the tournament the LPGA rookie is competing in this week at Highland Meadows Golf Club.

Spelling it is one thing; pronouncing it is another.

"OK, you ready?" she said yesterday. "It's Russ-ah-mee Gal-ah-yah-nah-mee-ta. Yes, autographs are difficult. It's so long. I need a stamp. Maybe I should just sign Russy. That's what everybody out here calls me."

Russamee Gulyanamitta aligns a putt on the 18th hole during the OC Classic at Highland Meadows. Russamee Gulyanamitta aligns a putt on the 18th hole during the OC Classic at Highland Meadows.
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If your name is Jim Smith and you went to Alma College you might not understand the problem.

Russamee Gulyanamitta graduated from Chulalongkorn University. Get all of that on a diploma.

Obviously, there's more to the young woman than her name.

She is the only professional golfer from Thailand playing on any American-based tour. Wait, you say. What about the LPGA's Stacy Prammanasudh? Well, you can't be from Thailand when you were born in Enid, Okla.

Russy - yeah, we're already tired of typing Gulyanamitta - was born and raised in Rayong, Thailand before going to college in Bangkok.

"It's the best university in the country and it was an honor to go there," she said.

She left with a degree in industrial engineering, spent several months in a training program and then worked in the computer field for nine months.

And she realized that life should be more exciting than that.

So she turned back to golf, a sport she learned to play and play well as a youngster, but which she had given up upon entering college.

Russy played on the Futures Tour for a while and, last year, won a tournament in Taiwan and lost in a playoff at the Malaysian Open. The LPGA Tour was the logical next step and she made the cut as a non-exempt player at last fall's tour qualifying tournament.

Coming to America has not necessarily been easy.

Her family is not here. Her friends are not here. There is no tom-yam-koong, a hot and sour soup with shrimp, lemon and cilantro.

"Oh, you would love it," Russy said. "It is my favorite thing. I miss Thai food. It's stinky, but it tastes soooo good. You can go to Thai restaurants here, but it just isn't the same.

"I come from a wonderful country. It's very beautiful, especially the beaches. I could stay there forever. The water is so clear you can see so deep and watch the fish swim."

The Thai people, said Russy, are very big on golf and she expects more players, both male and female, to appear on international tours very soon.

"I'm the only one now, but it's a very popular sport and we have a lot of courses now," she said. "There are many good young players. I think a lot of it is because of Tiger Woods, whose mother is Thai. So he's very big there. Of course, I guess he's very big everywhere in the world."

Gulyanamitta would like to make a name for herself in the golf world for reasons other than just its length.

Like many Asian names, hers has hidden meanings.

"My first name refers to the radius of the sun and its brightness," she said. "My last name means I am a friend and a person with many friends."

Someday, perhaps, she will be a person with many wins.

For now, though, she is a struggling 28-year-old tour rookie, fighting to break par, learning a new level of competition, trying to get comfortable and find confidence.

"There is so much talent," she said. "The courses are so good and tough. Everything is new to me. But I think my game is getting better. I feel like I'm ready to play this week.

"I am having a lot of fun but, you know, I want to play well, too."

Of course, the cost of fame could be high. All those autographs to sign, you know.

Contact Dave Hackenberg at:

dhack@theblade.com

or 419-724-6398



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