Arnond Vongvanij is one of those rare people who don’t go by his given name. Still rarer is the fact that his nickname “Bank” was given to him before he was even born.
“I got it a long time ago, when my Mom was pregnant with me she was up studying one night for her Master’s Degree in Finance and Banking,” said Vongvanij. “The next day she gave birth to me, and her friend said that I would grow up to be a banker. The name just stuck.”
But probably the most rare thing about Vongvanij is his golfing ability, which has led him from his native Thailand to the David Leadbetter Golf Academy in Bradenton, Florida, and more recently, to the University of Florida with a full scholarship.
The journey from Thailand started like many others around the world that end up at the Leadbetter Academy, with parents looking to give their kids a leg up.
“I started golfing at age 10, and by 12 I was getting pretty good,” said Vongvanij. “My Dad had a friend whose son went to the Academy, and he told us it was good for someone who is talented to develop their game.”
Vongvanij made the solo trip to the States at 14, and was later joined by his mother after a year.
The adjustment to life in a foreign country wasn’t a huge deal according to Vongvanij, and aside from some minor tiffs with a roommate, didn’t amount to much.
“I had studied English since the second grade, so I was almost fluent by (age) 12,” he said.
A bit of a tournament junkie, Vongvanij says he prefers to golf with his Academy buddies when there are some stakes involved, rather than a leisurely Sunday at the course.
"He is very focused on his golf and you can tell upon spending time with him that he really enjoys all of it, hitting balls, putting practice, and most of all, the competition," said Jay Jennison, the amateurgolf.com Southeast Region Manager and a Florida golf stalward. "He always has a smile on his face.
He is of course a very solid player - especially his wedge play. His distance control is amazing. As Ben Hogan used to say, he is very good at 'turning three shots into two.'"
Bank climbed to 18th overall spot in the 2006 amateurgolf.com-Bridgestone Golf National Player Rankings, and third in the Florida Rankings thanks in large part to a 1st place finish at the Terra Cotta Invitational and top-15 showings at the Porter Cup and Sunnehanna.
As a high school senior, he has again rode a solid (3rd place) finish at the Terra Cotta and a fifth at the Azalea Invitational to a tie for fourth nationally and third in Florida in the amateurgolf.com-Bridgestone Golf Player Rankings.
He decided to bring his talents to the University of Florida because of his good relationship with the coach, Buddy Alexander, the proximity to his swing coach and the year-round golf weather of the Sunshine State.
Quoted on the UF website, his soon-to-be coach seems just as happy to have him.
“Arnond has the ability to be an impact player for us from the outset of his career,” Alexander said. “He has unbelievable experience in both junior and amateur golf, and he has found success at both levels. He should be able to fit in quite nicely on a young team that will have most everyone coming back next year.”
Bank on it.
--Reach Peter Conroy at email@example.com