Darton No. 1 golfer Joe Sakulpolphaisan, a sophomore from Thailand, will return to nationals next week in Newton, Kan., looking to win low medalist honors one year after finishing runner-up. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
ALBANY — In less than two weeks, Joe Sakulpolphaisan will step on a plane bound for Newton, Kan., where he will try to lead the Darton golf team to its fourth national championship.
First, however, the NJCAA’s top-ranked junior golfer has some business to take care of.
Sakulpolphaisan told The Herald on Thursday that he is leaning toward signing a full scholarship with Mississippi State, and he will likely announce his decision next week before the Cavs head off to Kansas.
“I kind of know where I am going to go ... Mississippi State,” said Sakulpolphaisan, who also has an offer from Florida State. “They both have good golf teams, but I think I can go over there and help them to improve their program.”
Darton golf coach Bill Jones III said that Mississippi State has offered Sakulpolphaisan a full ride for his final two collegiate seasons, while Florida State’s offer would only be a full scholarship for his junior season. FSU ended this season ranked inside the Top 25, while Mississippi State isn’t even considered one of the top SEC teams — but that’s exactly what attracted Sakulpolphaisan to the Bulldogs.
“I think he likes the idea of being a difference maker,” Jones said. “Florida State is a Top 25 team every year, they have pros on the circuit, they have great facilities and great coaches. Mississippi State is a great school with great coaches, but he will be a difference-maker if he goes there. Their ranking will go from wherever it is now to much lower the moment he steps on campus. And I think he likes that idea.”
Sakulpolphaisan, a sophomore from Thailand, finished runner-up at nationals last season and enters this year’s national tournament as one of the favorites. He said Thursday that he definitely wants to make his decision before leaving for nationals, and while he’s not 100 percent confident he will choose Mississippi State, he’s pretty close.
“He will mean more to Mississippi State,” Jones said. “Wherever he goes, he will get a very good education and great facilities. He will get taken care of no matter where he goes. But if he goes to Florida State, he will just be another great player, which would be great because they want to win a national championship. Mississippi State would like to do that, too, but I think they are more keen on turning their program around. They are looking at him to step in and be a No. 1- or No. 2-type of guy.”
It’s an opportunity that the soft-spoken sophomore feels blessed to have.
“At first I didn’t think about (playing at a major university) because I didn’t think I would be able to go over there because of my school work,” said Sakulpolphaisan, who worried that he would be academically ineligible because of his high school education from Thailand. “And my golf game at the beginning was so-so, but this semester helped me a lot to get that opportunity.”
Sakulpolphaisan, who rose to the No. 1 ranking in February, has been simply incredible in his final year at Darton. He has played 17 tournament rounds this semester and has shot over par in only three of them, and his 70.64 scoring average is nearly a full stroke better than anybody else in the nation.
“He has gotten so much better since the end of last year,” Jones said. “If he can keep this going, it’s going to transfer to the SEC or the ACC. It will transfer into all-conference (honors) and maybe even All-American. And then if he has the right mind frame after that and gets his degree and everything, it will probably transfer to the PGA Tour.”