Phuntumabamrung finds family 9,000 miles from home

Courtesy photo: ISU Athletics

Courtesy photo: ISU Athletics

Dan Martin

Punpaka Phuntumabamrung was wrapping up her freshman year at the same time as many students at Iowa State, but she had much more on her agenda to keep up with than just class work and finals.

Phuntumabamrung, now a sophomore, was multitasking her first year of college classes with a busy practice schedule as a member of the ISU women’s golf team. Despite two-hour practices every day and the struggles of adapting to life in a different country, Phuntumabamrung was able to stay on top of her classes as an undecided major.

“Golf is very important to me, but I know that school is also very important,” Phuntumabamrung said. “I need to try very hard in both of them.”

It was quite a first season on the course for Phuntumabamrung. She competed in all 12 tournaments for the team as a true freshman. Her season average of 77.56 was the second lowest for a rookie in school history. She shot the lowest 18-hole score in school history with a 67 at the Onion Creek Tournament, then, at the end of April when classroom pressures were at their peak, she tied for seventh at the Big 12 championships, the best finish of any Cyclone in school history.

With the golf season over and classes completed, Phuntumabamrung boarded a plane to take her 9,000 miles back to Bangkok, Thailand, where she was born and raised by her parents Pichai and Suwanna Phuntumabamrung. It was there she attended high school at Horwang School, and made a name for herself as a golfer, winning a Gold medal in the Seo Games in 2007.

With only a few months back in the comforts of home, she made use of her time. She competed in, and won, the A-Class Open. She also finished fifth at the TLPGA in Thailand.

Her success on the golf course comes from her constant stride for improvement. Within days of returning home she was back on the range, practicing her swing and working on her shot. Her summer consisted mostly of golf until it was time to head back to Ames to begin her sophomore season.

She admits that saying goodbye to her family is always hard. What really eases the transition is the family atmosphere she finds in her teammates and coaches.

“It’s like a family here,” Phuntumabamrung said. “I really like my teammates and coaches. They help me a lot.”

The family atmosphere of the team is evident just from watching the team warm-up at practice. Players joke around with each other and everyone on the team is in a fun loving mood. Phuntumabamrung goes primarily by her nickname “Bo” while interacting with the team.

“The whole team gets along so great,” said coach Christie Martens. “They really feed off each other. It’s an awesome atmosphere.”

That family atmosphere has propelled Iowa State to one of its best starts in school history this fall season. After taking two second- and fourth-place finishes, the team wrapped up the fall season with a winning effort in the last tournament of season at Onion Creek.

Phuntumabamrung has improved upon her game from last year, and finished in the top 10 in three out of the five tournaments. She said her improvement is in large part due to the coaching of Martens and Pina Gentile.

“It’s a lot different from Thailand to here,” Phuntumabamrung said. “Here we have a practice schedule, like we have everything to do, every day. Coach always sets a schedule for practice, workout’s stuff like that. It’s a lot of hard work here. I learn a lot of new things here. I think I’ve been playing pretty good so far, this fall. My game’s improved a lot.”

To complement her gains in her physical game, she thinks she is playing smarter this season as well.

“My way of thinking in a game is better, I don’t get bitter,” Phuntumabamrung said. “I know how to adjust to everything better. Last year, I didn’t really have a plan. But this year I … know what’s the goal. I set more goals this year.”

She quickly went on to add that the team’s success is no individual accomplishment. She pointed to her teammates as being the reason for her good play and their solid start.

“We have a really good team,” Phuntumabamrung said. “My teammates help me to shoot better. We are better than last year. I think we can be really good this year.”

Phuntumabamrung still has some work at adjusting to life in America. Learning a new language, different customs and a tough class-load is a lot for anyone to manage.

“Last year was my first year here,” she said. “It’s a lot different way of life here. It’s kind of hard to adjust too but I like it. I make sure to stay focused on my school”.

The trip home to Thailand is too long to make over short breaks like Thanksgiving, but she does plan to return home over winter break. She likes to catch up with friends and family, and also avoid as much of the harsh winter Iowa is known for.

“I think I will return home this winter,” Phuntumabamrung said. “I can practice back home in Thailand. It is not so cold there so that is better.”

Phuntumabamrung was pleased with the fall season and hopes for even better things this spring. The team is back in action in February, where she hopes they can achieve their biggest goal of the season.

“Going to Nationals, that is the my main goal this season,” she said.