MIDDLEFIELD — Mercy golf coach Pete Golanski’s approach to managing his top player, Praewa Treekul, is about as hands-off as hands-off can be.
“How do I coach her? I put her on the course and shut the hell up!” he said.
Golanski has seen a number of good players come through in his three decades with the program, the last 24 as head coach. Praewa (pronounced PRAY-wuh) Treekul is different. She came to Mercy from Thailand in 2015 as a foreign-exchange student and a ready-made, top-flight player.
Treekul has been the engine powering a very good Mercy team this season and last. The Tigers have won 29 straight matches, including 11 this season with a cast that includes Meghan DeVille, Caroline Thompson, Alison Chase and Eileen So. They are favored to win a second straight Southern Connecticut Conference tournament title and expect to be better at the State Open than their eighth-place finish a year ago.
The Tigers, though, won’t deny that Treekul is their driving force. Modest, cheerful and her own toughest critic, Treekul can play to a 1-handicap on her best days. She is hard on herself, maybe to a fault, especially when her putter keeps from going low.
“She’s a team player. As good as she is, and she kicks butt, it’s always a nice experience playing with her,” said DeVille, a senior and Mercy’s center on its Class LL state championship basketball team.
“She never has a bad day,” said Thompson.
“She’ll never tell you she’s a great golfer,” said Chase. “If someone asked her if she’s a good or bad player, she’d say ‘medium.’”
Mercy beat Waterford 178-221 on Monday at Lyman Orchards as Treekul shot 36 on the front nine of the Jones Course, and she could have gone a stroke lower if not for a missed eagle putt on No. 9. DeVille shot 47, Thompson 45, Chase 53 and So 50.
Mercy’s closest encounter with defeat came May 1. Amity, which has become its SCC rival of sorts, came within one stroke of the Tigers at Race Brook in Orange. In the return match at Lyman on May 9, Mercy won by 11 shots. Mercy beat Amity by two to win last year’s SCC tournament and did it without Treekul, who instead opted to play in the 19th Connecticut Women’s Open, where she shot rounds of 75 and 80.
“Amity thought it would win the SCC with Praewa there (at the Connecticut Women’s Open), and we won by two strokes,” Golanski said. “This year I told Praewa, you’re going to be at all of our tournaments.”
The Tigers began the week fourth in the CIAC’s rankings with a 46.8 scoring differential, behind No. 1 Fairfield Warde (35.5), defending state champion New Canaan (36.4) and Wethersfield (42.6).
Winning the state title as a team will be the longest of long shots, because Warde and New Canaan have multiple players who can score as low as Treekul does, Golanski said. The focus becomes one on progression. Mercy — the state runner-up in 2004 and 2005 — was 13th in 2016 and five places better last year.
Treekul was runner-up last year with a 3-over 75, four shots behind returning champion Sarah Houle of Newtown.
“When I first found out she played golf back in Thailand, we immediately sent for her clubs,” Golanski said. “The first time I saw her hit balls, I said, ‘Oh, this is good.’ ”
By her admission, Treekul plays a conservative game and would prefer to play a course on the safe side than go for shots that could wind up hurting her scorecard.
“It’s kind of like my personality,” Treekul said. “It’s not like I don’t take risks in life, because I came here! But I don’t want to do something that will destroy my score or be worse than par.”
What separates Treekul from most good players, Golanski said, is the urgency she has to correct mistakes. Treekul recalled a round of 42 one time that brought her to tears because it fell below her standard of play. Golanski remembered that day.
“She was not happy with her putting, and when the round was over she spent the next 90 minutes on the putting green,” he said. “She wants to correct something right now, right away. She has a tremendous desire to succeed.”
Treekul enjoyed her exchange experience in 2015 so much that another family agreed to take her in, so she enrolled at Mercy any other student would, for her junior and senior years. She appreciates all of the things that come with being a student at an American school — particularly athletics.
“In Thailand schools, they don’t support activities. There is no golf team or soccer team for school,” she said. “I’ve been playing golf since I was 9 years old. Here I can play golf, and I don’t want to quit playing.”
Her mother, father and younger brother will be in Middletown later this month to see her graduate. Her education will continue in America, too. She will return to Thailand this summer to get paperwork in order for her to return and attend the University of North Carolina, where she plans to study either chemistry or biology. Her long-term goal is dental school and a career in orthodontics.
Her golf-related goal is that UNC sees enough good in her game to let her walk on to the team in the fall. By her account, her 16-year-old brother is a good player and her mother wants him to attend college in the U.S., hopefully on a golf scholarship.
Treekul and the Tigers are eager for tournament play to begin. Unlike last year, they will have her for the SCC tournament on May 30, and they’ll also have DeVille for the state tournament on June 5. She was unable to play last year after breaking a finger in an AAU basketball game two days before the event.