Gophers feature trio of international players

Minnesota’s nine-person roster has a player from Spain and two from Thailand.

Carmen Laguna practices putting Tuesday at the Les Bolstad Golf Course in Falcon Heights, Minn.  Laguna is one of thee international golfers on this year's team

Carmen Laguna practices putting Tuesday at the Les Bolstad Golf Course in Falcon Heights, Minn. Laguna is one of thee international golfers on this year’s team

Drew Claussen

Gophers head coach Michele Redman will make a trip to Europe soon but not for a vacation.

Watching tournaments overseas is one of the ways the first-year coach Redman plans to recruit internationally — a trend that she says is essential in Division I golf today.

“You have to these days,” Redman said. “There’s just as many great players over there as there is [in the U.S.]”

Redman said international recruiting is especially important for her because of Minnesota’s climate.

However, Redman wasn’t sure if international recruiting has become more important for northern teams compared to southern ones.

Redman’s current nine-member squad features three international golfers: freshman Carmen Laguna from Spain and freshman Sarinee Thitiratanakorn and sophomore Banchalee Theinthong, both from Thailand. All three have spent the majority of the season in the Gopher’s five-person lineup.

Redman said she’s seen them get more comfortable as time has gone on and that it has shown in their scores.

“They’re getting better; they’re getting used to us, and they’re getting used to the culture,” Redman said.

Eight of the 12 women’s golf teams in the Big Ten feature at least one international player.

Laguna

Freshman Carmen Laguna had never visited Minnesota before her first day on campus. She hadn’t even been to the U.S.

Laguna chose to leave her hometown of Tomares–Sevilla, Spain, and golf for the Gophers at the recommendation of a former Gophers golfer. Teresa Puga, who is currently a student assistant coach for Minnesota said Laguna might like playing with the Gophers.

“[Puga] was really happy in the United States, and she encouraged me to come here,” Laguna said. “She described this paradise so I was like, ‘OK let’s try it.’”

Laguna said she entered this year with an open mind but knew if she didn’t like it, she could always return home.

“When I first arrived I thought I knew English, but I wasn’t understanding anything,” Laguna said. “It was super scary, but now I’m fine. I’m glad I came.”

Laguna said she felt like she was on another planet at times. But after a semester assimilating, she has settled in.

 The freshman has golfed in all eight events this season for the Gophers and has the third-lowest stroke average on the team with 77.12. She owns two top-20 finishes this season.

Aside from having to adjust to U.S. culture, Laguna said it was difficult to adjust to the golf courses that she played for Division I competitions.

“The courses are more strict, you cannot miss that much,” Laguna said. “They are longer, too, so that makes you be more focused on the course.”

Two from Thailand

Minnesota’s other two international golfers get to see a familiar face each day at practice.

Before they joined the Gophers, sophomore Banchalee Theinthong and freshman Sarinee Thitiratanakorn went to the same school in Bangkok, Thailand.

Attending the same college was no coincidence — Thitiratanakorn said having a friend at Minnesota played a huge part in her decision to come.

The younger Thitiratanakorn said having a sophomore international golfer helped her make the transition to a new country.

Theinthong said her first semester was a “headache” because of her busy schedule, but said she was impressed with the way Thitiratanakorn and Laguna transitioned to the college game.

Thitiratanakorn echoed Laguna’s concerns about adjusting to a new style of course in the U.S. compared to the ones she was accustomed to playing in Thailand.

“Over here the golf courses are kind of hilly,” Thitiratanakorn said. “The weather is so much colder, too.”

Theinthong’s golf career started when her uncle took her to a miniature golf course in New York. She spent time going back and forth between New York and Thailand since she was 10 years old. 

Theinthong’s father always had the goal for his daughter to study and play golf in the U.S.

Once she got to Minnesota, she said she was happy with her decision to play for the Gophers.

“It’s a good school. Everything seems to be a good fit for me,” Theinthong said.

Both golfers cited the weather as a major difference between Thailand and the U.S.

“I can get used to it,” Theinthong said with a laugh. “It’s a good experience because you get to see different weather that’s totally opposite [of weather in Thailand].”

Theinthong has played in all eight events for the Gophers this season and has the lowest average score on the team this season with 75.75. Thitiratanakorn has played in seven events and has an 80.66 stroke average.