The Daily Illini

From California to Illinois: Freshmen golfers bring new energy to team

Sukaree admires a shot at the Couer D'alene Collegiate Resort on Sept. 12, 2018. Sukaree tied for 13th at the event.

Sukaree admires a shot at the Couer D'alene Collegiate Resort on Sept. 12, 2018. Sukaree tied for 13th at the event.

Photo courtesy of Illini Athletics

Photo courtesy of Illini Athletics

Sukaree admires a shot at the Couer D'alene Collegiate Resort on Sept. 12, 2018. Sukaree tied for 13th at the event.

By Gabby Hajduk, Contributing Writer

Freshmen golfers Crystal Wang and Kornkamol Sukaree have history on the golf course together. Both golfers are from Southern California and live about 40 miles from each other.

Because Wang and Sukaree hail from the same area, they competed in some of the same tournaments in high school but never competed in the same group. The Illini shared similar experiences in high school and were both listed on the National Junior Golf Scoreboard class of 2018 rankings, only two spots apart.

Now at Illinois, the golfers continue to have similar paths. Of the five freshmen on the women’s golf team, Sukaree and Wang both earned starting spots to begin the fall season. Following their first tournament in Knoxville, Tennessee, both golfers kept their spots and competed in the second tournament at Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. In both tournaments, Wang and Sukaree finished in the top 15, individually.

While Wang and Sukaree had similar experiences in high school, their individual journies have been unique.

The United States, specifically California, has been Sukaree’s home for only four years. Originally from Thailand, Sukaree moved an ocean away from her family to pursue her golf career, which started when she was almost nine years old.

“I was on the swimming team for five years,” Sukaree said. “When I got older my dad told me, ‘you are shorter, so it will be harder to compete (in swimming).’ Then, he got me into golf, thinking it would be easier for me to compete, and I liked it because I started playing with friends which made it more fun.”

During her time in California, Sukaree moved between three different host families, remaining closest with the last family she stayed with. Sukaree described coming to U.S. as a “great experience,” but hopes to move back to Thailand one day.

Back home in Thailand, Sukaree misses her family, her dog and the food. She normally ate Thai and Japanese food at home, but her favorite thing from Thailand is a drink called Boba. While Boba has grown popular in the U.S., Sukaree says it’s just not the same.

In California, Sukaree had to make a lot of changes, but one thing that remained the same was her nickname ‘Stang’, which means ‘penny’ in Thailand. Sukaree said in Thailand, most people have two names: their full name and a nickname that is given to them by their parents at birth. Unless in a very formal setting, a person’s nickname is their most common name used. At Illinois, Sukaree’s teammates and coaches continue to call her ‘Stang’.

For Wang, her journey to Illinois didn’t start across the Pacific, but it started when she was only in preschool.

“I first started playing golf when I was four,” said Wang. “I would just swing the club and run around. My dad loved golf and he practiced almost everyday when I was little so he would bring me to the golf course with him.”

Although missing home is something Wang’s dealt with at Illinois, she’s also been excited about leaving California and getting a new experience at the University.

One of the things Wang misses the most from home is her mom’s cooking, especially her Chinese food. Wang said her older sister warned her about missing their mother’s food, but Wang didn’t believe it until she left home.

She also said her favorite food is candy and other sweets. In high school, Wang’s ‘pre-tournament ritual’ included avoiding sweets before her tournaments, but her tradition ended quickly at Illinois, as the desserts at team dinner were too good to resist.

Food isn’t Wang’s only interest outside of golf. She also loves to watch Netflix shows like “Stranger Things” and “Riverdale,” but has limited time to do so between school and golf.

The transition to college has been similar for Sukaree and Wang compared to other freshmen because the golfers are doing more than adjusting to college life; they’re adapting to a new culture.

“(College) is really different from high school,” said Wang. “It is really, really busy because everyday is packed with practice and workouts. It’s also not as flexible because in high school you are able to practice by yourself and take days off whenever you want, but here coach expects you to be here at this time and there at that time.”

While both freshmen have experienced struggles in their transitions, Sukaree and Wang know they have their teammates to answer any questions they have and help them acclimate to campus. 

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