Rock Chalk Weekly: Her Future, Her Path, Her Life

Written by Erica Mings, Kansas Athletic Communications Student Assistant

Fitting into a mold and simply doing what she is told without question is something Yupaporn Kawinpakorn refuses to do on the golf course as well as off. In three seasons, the Thailand native, better known to her teammates and Kansas staff as “Mook,” has turned in a truly extraordinary effort, breaking the Kansas single-season scoring record as a freshman, which just isn’t done. Then she did it again as a sophomore.

Last year, Mook dropped the scoring total even lower and owns the three-best yearly-scoring efforts in Kansas history with perhaps her best golf yet ahead of her during a 2015-16 senior campaign. Mook is leaving her mark on Kansas and she’s doing it her own way. 

The oldest of three children, born in Samutprakan, Thailand, Mook was raised in an environment where children are expected to be seen and not heard.

“In my culture, we have to listen to adults and our parents,” Mook said. “We weren’t encouraged to speak up.”

But KU women’s golf’s senior leader began carving her own path and deciding what she wanted in life at a young age.

She first set foot on a golf course at the age of 10 when her father would drop her off at Pak Nam Driving Range, while he played a round of golf with his buddies.  At Pak Nam, Mook would learn the ins and outs of golf, but the future two-time NCAA Championship participant’s golfing career almost ended as quickly as it started. Not knowing that there was a fiercely competitive world of golf outside of the driving range, Mook found golf to be very dull, and unfulfilling.

“The first couple months I found that golf was boring,” Mook said. “So, I stopped.”

After torching the Kansas record books for season stroke averages, it is clear she sees the competitive nature of the sometimes docile sport. Mook began to golf again with a coach at the driving range, and the second time around she was determined to have fun – maybe a little too much.  

Although she was talented at a young age, Mook was not a favorite among the other young golfers and their parents.  Mook would celebrate her exciting moments on the golf course with cheering and yelling, not knowing that it was frowned upon. 

“I didn’t know,” Mook, who now approaches each hole with a focused stoicism, said. “I was just having fun.”

It was this second go at golf that filled her with the realization that she was meant to be a golfer. The idea of potentially playing for a university in the United States on a scholarship was soon to follow, but again not without Mook having to create her own path.

Thai culture and traditions are centered on respect and frown upon children speaking up and going against their parents’ wishes. If Mook were to play golf in college, she knew she’d have to spurn her father’s desires for her stay in Thailand. He wanted her to play professionally, not leave the country to get an education. Mook decided she was going to golf in college even if it meant going against her father’s wishes. She wasn’t asking for permission. She had already made up her mind.

“We fought,” Mook recalled.  “I got myself together and talked to [my] dad. This is what I want.”

Mook, who now wears Crimson and Blue with pride, was originally going to attend Missouri State. But before committing to the Bears, Mook connected with Thanuttra Boonraksasat, a golfer who was also from Thailand but played for the University of Kansas. Boonraksasat, who is now playing on the Thai LPGA Tour, was instrumental in helping get Mook to Lawrence and transition from life in Thailand to life in a foreign country as a college athlete. Some might call it coincidence, but Mook has her own feelings about why she chose to live out her college dreams as a Jayhawk.

“It was meant to be,” Mook said.

Mook, who left her mother, father, and two siblings to come to the United States to play golf, said her team is her family here, but it didn’t start out that way. She had to adapt to life as a part of a team and it took some getting used to. In Thailand, Mook spent her days on the golf course alone, striving for individual success with no need to be involved with other golfers. She did things her way.

“No rules, no schedule,” Mook said. “I was on my own.”

In her mind golf was an individual sport and she didn’t understand why she needed to answer to a coach or why it was so important for her to bond with her teammates. 

Almost a year had passed before Mook, who is now a source of leadership and encouragement for her teammates, got used to concept of being a part of a team. Mook’s statistics speak for themselves. She has the best season averages in KU history and also has 15, top-10 finishes and eight, top-five finishes in just three seasons. Mook understands that she is a part of a team, but in order be the leader she knows her team needs, she has to constantly strive to improve her game as an individual.

Her focus and countless hours spent on perfecting her game as an individual has led to three, top-10 finishes in all three of the Big 12 Championships that she competed in.  In 2014, Mook, who was a sophomore at the time, helped Kansas qualify for the NCAA Women’s Golf National Championship, a moment that the record-breaking golfer says she will never forget.

“It was the best feeling ever,” Mook nostalgically recalled. “We cried. We laughed. It was the best moment. That moment was really – unexplainable.”

It was another point that helped Mook understand the importance of being a part of a team. 

As the first female golfer from KU to be named Big 12 Golfer of the Month last October, Mook says she knows she wouldn’t be where she is today without her coach, Erin O’Neil.  Entering her 12th season at Kansas, O’Neil has coached the Jayhawks to numerous individual and team wins, and said Mook has helped create an atmosphere of hard work and dedication from the moment she arrived at KU. Mook may not consider herself to be a leader because she doesn’t like the spotlight and is somewhat quiet and reserved, but O’Neil disagrees.

“She’s a leader whether she knows it or not,” O’Neil said. “The girls definitely look up to her.”

O’Neil says all the different things that make Mook a successful athlete are the same things that make her leader. O’Neil’s many praises of Mook and her work ethic make this golfer a coach’s dream. But the three-time Big 12 All-Tournament honoree jokingly summed up what she thought O’Neil might say about her.

“A badass,” Mook laughed. “And a smartass.”

Clearly Mook’s quiet demeanor hasn’t taken away from her sense of humor.

As far as her final season with KU is concerned, the senior golfer, who has a long list of academic honors to add to her athletic accomplishments, hopes to leave her mark on the teammates she will leave behind once she graduates.

“She has left her mark already,” O’Neil said. “I’m excited to see how she does this year.”

Mook prides herself in the fact that she gives 100 percent every time she steps on the golf course, and she is hoping that she has inspired her team to do the same. While doing well and being successful on the golf course is important to Mook, that isn’t her ultimate goal for this season.

“I want to have fun,” Mook said. “I want to enjoy every minute of it.”

Once she graduates Mook hopes to try out for the LPGA, but she has her doubts about being able to afford the costs that come along with being a professional golfer. Entry fees for some tournaments can be thousands of dollars, not including travel, hotel and any other expenses that she may incur.  Mook said her only option is to find a sponsor who will help cover the costs, which O’Neil doesn’t believe will be a problem for her.

“If you go out and watch her play once, you can see the passion she has for the game of golf and for life in general,” O’Neil said. “People will want to support that.”

Mook has made a great, positive impact on Kansas women’s golf and the entire athletic department, and will continue to do so as she embarks on her final season as a Jayhawk golfer. She knows what she wants, what she needs, and she’s not afraid to tell you. This Kansas golfer has made it clear that she is a force to be reckoned with and will not let anything or anyone stand in her way.

“I know what I want,” Mook said. “It’s my future, my life, my path.”

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