Darton's Joe Sakulpolphaisan, who ended the season ranked No. 1 in the nation in NJCAA, was named to the prestigous 24-player All-Nicklaus Team on Friday, joining NCAA Division I Player of the Year Justin Thomas of Alabama and Jordan Spieth of Texas --- last week's low amateur at the U.S. Open --- just to name a few.
ALBANY — Joe Sakulpolphaisan, the kid with the big last name, now has the biggest honor of his golf career to match.
Darton’s No. 1 golfer from Thailand, who finished his sophomore year recently as the top-ranked junior college golfer in the nation and will play next season for Mississippi State, became the first member in the Cavaliers’ storied program history to be named to the All-Nicklaus Team this week.
The team, which consists of the top collegiate golfers in the country — from NJCAA all the way up to NCAA Division I — is selected by legend Jack Nicklaus, golf’s all-time majors winner, and the Golf Coaches Association of America.
Sakulpolphaisan, who is already in Starkville, Miss., taking summer classes and gearing up for the Bulldogs’ fall golf season, said he felt honored and humbled when reached by The Herald on Friday.
“I have to thank all my family, school, coaches and friends that always supported me. I would not be successful without them. It means a lot for me. I never thought my name would be on that list, and it will inspire me to improve and keep moving forward to the next step of my career,” Sakulpolphaisan said in a text message. “It’s great to be named to the All-Nicklaus Team, but now my goal is to win the Nicklaus Award so I can meet Jack in person!”
The Nicklaus Award, which is given annually to the golfer deemed the best overall player in the nation for each division, was won in Division I by the University of Alabama’s Justin Thomas. Thomas was also named the 2012 NCAA Player of the Year, and he led the Crimson Tide to a runner-up finish in the NCAA Championships.
The NJCAA’s honor went to Jimmy Kozikowski of South Mountain (Ariz.) Community College, while Noah Ratner (Guilford) was given the honor in NCAA Division III and Nathan Anderson (Texas Wesleyan) earned the honor for the best NAIA player.
Also making the All-Nicklaus Team was Texas’ Jordan Spieth, the low amateur at last week’s second major of the year, the U.S. Open, as well Blayne Barber of Auburn.
Sakulpolphaisan was one of just four junior college players to make the prestigious 24-player team, joining Jake Argento and Kozikowski of South Mountain and Jake Sterling, who plays for Darton’s biggest rival, Meridian (Miss.) Community College.
Darton head coach Bill Jones III said Friday he was floored by the announcement — but then again, he wasn’t.
“Honestly, Joe is a great golfer and very deserving of the award, so that didn’t surprise me. But when I saw the caliber of players who made the list with him, it just made the honor that much more special. He’s in some elite company,” Jones said. “The All-Nicklaus Team wasn’t started until 2008, but Joe’s (selection) marks the first time anyone from Darton has made it, so it’s a great honor for him, as well as the program. As far as we know, he’s the first player to ever be nominated for it from Darton — and we’ve had some good golfers come through here. It just shows you the caliber of player he is, and we couldn’t be more proud of him.
“If he had played a little better at nationals, or had won, my guess is he would’ve won the Nicklaus Award. But Jimmy Kozikowski is a great player and he earned the award with his great season, even though Joe (according to golfstat.com) finished the year as the No. 1-ranked player in the nation.”
The All-Nicklaus Team was created in 2008, and is not only named after history’s greatest player, but also because Nicklaus is a long-time supporter of collegiate and amateur golf. Nicklaus, a Big Ten and NCAA Champion at Ohio State University, helped inspire and create the Jack Nicklaus Awards in 1988.
Nicklaus, a five-time PGA Player of the Year, leads all pro golfers with 18 major championships, as well as 118 total wins in tournaments both on the PGA Tour and around the world.