Coaching with empathy

To the 11 members of the women’s golf team, Chawwadee Rompothong ’00 has been, at varying times, a coach, a mother and an older sister.

Since becoming the team’s head coach in 2006, Rompothong has guided the Bulldogs to two Ivy League titles and two second-place finishes. But her team appreciates her as much for her expert guidance as they do for her warmth and empathy. The players say Rompothong’s ability to understand and relate directly to their college experiences set her apart from many other coaches at Yale and across the nation.

“I cannot love her enough,” Marika Liu ’15 said. “She’s been a shoulder to lean on, kind of like an elder sister who gives you advice without judgment. She understands all our needs, both as students and as athletes.”

Rompothong said she emphasizes excellence “both on and off the golf course,” allowing golfers to do schoolwork as necessary during the team’s daily three- to five-hour practices. It is a privilege that has boosted the team’s GPA to the 11th highest among Division I teams this past year, at 3.636.

Beyond academics, Sunny Park ’14 said Rompothong often asks about her family or school life. Park adds that she never hesitates to vent to her coach or seek her advice, whether about roommate issues or balancing golf and academics with her social and extracurricular life.

Rompothong’s ability to be both a respected mentor and a close friend and cheerleader has also endeared her to the athletes, some of whom call her by her nickname “Diddy.”

“We always tease her to come with us to Toad’s to relive the experience,” Park said. “Hasn’t happened yet, but hopefully we’ll get her to come this year.”

As a former member of Yale’s varsity golf team, Rompothong was named an All-Ivy golfer three times and helped the Bulldogs to three Ivy titles. But she said the women’s golf scene has become much more competitive since her college years, when the women’s golf coach was only a part-time position.

“I was involved in ASA as the president of the Thai Club, I was involved in YPU,” she said. “We were still serious with golf … but the level of competition is much higher today.”

Upon graduating with a degree in economics, Rompothong was initially drawn to “conventional” jobs such as banking and consulting. But when she opted instead for a career in professional golf, she realized that coaching would allow her to combine her passion for golf with her enjoyment and skill at mentoring others.

Before becoming a coach, Rompothong had entertained the idea of attending business school to expand her networking opportunities. But since returning to Yale she has established a healthy network in the Yale community with professors who enjoy golfing, including School of Management Dean Edward Snyder. Park and Shreya Ghei ’15 said Rompothong has introduced them to many residential college fellows, faculty and former classmates now working in a range of industries.

Even as a coach, Rompothong still enjoys aspects of the Yale undergraduate experience. For three years, she was a resident fellow of Berkeley College, where Park said she would play Ping-Pong in the buttery with the team. She has also audited a number of classes including a School of Management course on sports statistics and Kelly Brownell’s “The Psychology, Biology and Politics of Food.”

Although described by her players as fiercely competitive — even over a casual game of Ping-Pong or charades — Rompothong said she loves golf for its collegial atmosphere and emphasis on sportsmanship.

“When you spend five hours on the course, you get to talk to some of the people you’re playing with, even in a competition,” she said. “You don’t see that in other sports.”

But within this collegial atmosphere, Rompothong hopes her team rises to the highest stage and becomes the first Ivy League team to reach the national championship tournament.

“I want them to own their time here and to know what legacy they want to leave,” Rompothong said. “If they push themselves a bit harder they can accomplish a lot of things. They could make history.”

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