USGA Chairman of International Competitions Steve Smyers could have been referring specifically to Arnond “Bank” Vongvanij when he said earlier this year that, “I fully expect someone not on the Walker Cup practice squad to make the final team.” Fortunately, Bank has taken the bait, and is giving it his all to make the trip to Royal Aberdeen.
Vongvanij, a senior at the University of Florida, has been one of the most consistent collegiate golfers in the land this year. And he is finally living up to the advance billing when he committed to become the next great Gator golfer. The IMG Academy product was a standout junior player, earning AJGA All-American honors in four consecutive years. Florida coach Buddy Alexander thought he would have an immediate impact.
But shortly after he arrived on campus in Gainesville, his swing deserted him, and there was no IMG instructor on hand to immediately diagnose the problem. In an effort to gain length, the 5-foot-5, 142-pound golfer developed a serious case of the lefts. Things got so bad that he played in just one event as a sophomore. So while he worked to fix the dreaded hook, he perfected an already strong short game that is second to none in the college ranks today. Gradually, his swing recovered, followed by his confidence.
After a junior year he described as “okay,” things began to click at the 2010 Cardinal Amateur. He followed up with a good performance at the U. S. Amateur at Chambers Bay, and he has been on a tear ever since. Vongvanij has been medalist three times this school year, including an impressive performance on a lengthy, 7,500-yard golf course against a strong field at the Isleworth Invitational last fall. He became the first Gator to earn three medalist honors in a season since Camilo Villegas in 2002. Only four other Florida golfers have accomplished this feat: Villegas (2002), Steve Scott (1999), Brian Gay (1992) and Chris DiMarco (1990).
Currently, he is the fifth-ranked player in the college game, and he has helped lead Florida to the No. 5 spot in the Nike/Golf Coaches college rankings. He has 19 out of 30 rounds at par or better, and his scoring average is 70.8. Twenty-eight of his 30 rounds have counted toward the team score, and he has seven top-five finishes.
Leave it to coach Alexander, a former U. S. Amateur champion, to analyze his game: “From 60 yards in, he is the best I have ever had. He has a full repertoire of shots, and a fertile imagination. And he really works at it.”
Alexander says Bank is long enough, but more importantly, he is deadly straight, having overcome his left affliction. And he is also a good thinker on the golf course, claiming “he absolutely refuses to hit the wrong shot.”
Bank was born in Hawaii to Thai parents, and he grew up in Thailand. At age 12, he left his homeland, alone, and enrolled at the IMG Academy. How did he get his name? The night before he was born, his mother was studying for a final exam in banking as she was earning her masters degree. She aced the exam, and so her friends thought the child should be named Bank. The nickname has stuck ever since.
As far as the Walker Cup, he has low expectations but very much wants to make the team. He knows his summer play for the last three years has been mediocre, but he plans to play a full amateur summer schedule in 2011 with the goal of making the team. “It would be such an honor,” he told me recently, while declaring his intention to remain an amateur in hopes of being selected.
With his big smile and engaging manner, Bank is easily likable. He is admired by teammates and opponents alike, many of whom are pulling for him this summer to continue to play well and get the call he covets from Smyers in August.