Nirapathpongporn long on list of honors

By Anthony Rhoads

Virada Nirapathpongporn has a long name but she also has a long list of accomplishments in the game of golf.

Nirapathpongporn won the U.S Women's Amateur Championship last year, won the 2002 NCAA championship and was ranked first GolfWeek's women's amateur standings in 2003.

The Duke senior also is a three-time NSCA All-American and two-time NGCA Academic All-American.

Wednesday, she added one more honor in her amateur career as she was named the 2004 winner of the Nancy Lopez Award, given to the world's most outstanding female amateur golfer.

"It is great to receive this honor from Nancy Lopez," she said. "Obviously, everyone knows she is a legend in women's golf. It is a wonderful honor for me and my family as I have worked so hard to get to this point."

Nirapathpongporn is the fifth winner of the award. Past winners include Kellee Booth, Aree Song, Meredith Duncan and Lorena Ochoa.

"Having my name associated with this prestigious award is a huge honor for me," Lopez said. "I have wonderful memories of competing in amateur golf. Virada is a great credit to collegiate and women's golf and I'm sure she will enjoy and long and successful career."

Nirapathpongporn is a native of Bangkok, Thailand and has been playing since she was 8.

Top American: Cristie Kerr is the top American on the LPGA tour right now. She's ranked third in the Rolex Player of the Year standings and is third on the money list.

"It's definitely one of my goals to be the top American," she said. "It's an honor and you have to work hard for it."

Kerr is coming off an eight-hole playoff victory at the LPGA Takefuji Classic a week and a half ago.

"It was a very, very special win for me," she said. "It was a marathon playoff. I found I had the guts to see it through. I wasn't going to let anyone take it away from me."

Kerr takes aim at breast cancer: Last year, Kerr's mother Linda was diagnosed and treated for breast cancer and Kerr is focused on raising funds to battle the disease.

She's started a program called ?Birdies for Breast Cancer' where she is donating $50 for every birdie she makes with matching funds from Mutual of Omaha. Money from the program will be donated to The Breast Cancer Foundation.

Fans can also help out through the www.birdiesforbreastcancer.com, which is being launched at 11 a.m. today.

"I knew I had to do something to help fight this horrible disease," Kerr said.

Peach State connection: Several players in the Chick-fil-A Charity Championship have ties to Georgia including Luciana Bemvenuti (Duluth), Nanci Bowen (Tifton), Jenna Daniels (Bogart), Angela Jerman (Columbus), Rosie Jones (Atlanta), Denise Killeen (Marietta) and Nancy Lopez (Albany).

The University of Georgia also has a solid contingent including Bemvenuti, Jerman, Vicki Goetze-Ackerman, and Reilly Rankin.

Hall of famers: Five LPGA Hall of Fame members are competing in the Chick-fil-A Charity Championship including Lopez, JoAnn Carner, Beth Daniel, Juli Inkster and Annika Sorenstam.

Last year's tournament winner Se Ri Pak needs just one point to become eligible for the hall of fame.