By Lexi Hamel
Pluem Yongyuan: The former No.1-ranked women’s golfer in the NCAA looks towards a professional career as she helps establish SUU golf on the national stage.
Chanikan “Pluem” Yongyuan has made history for not only the women’s golf team, but also women’s athletics as a whole at Southern Utah University and, even as her college career nears its end, Yongyuan’s competitive golf career is far from over.
SUU was able to secure Yongyuan’s collegiate golfing career despite several larger universities including Purdue University, San Diego State University, University of Arkansas and Kansas State University among other NCAA Division I programs lining up to take a shot at recruiting her.
Although Yongyuan had the attention of some of the top schools in the nation, the Phitsanulok, Thailand native chose to come to SUU because of the golf program that the university offers.
“Coach [Richard] Church, along with the Cedar City community, was very welcoming,” Yongyuan said. “I did not have any second thoughts. It just felt like home.”
Church, SUU’s women and men’s golf head coach, began trying to recruit Yongyuan when she was just 17 years old.
Yongyuan caught the attention of many D-I coaches during her junior golf career. She won the TGA-SINGHA Junior Golf Championship in her age division which qualified her to play in the SINGHA Thailand Junior World in 2017.
Eadyoungone Yongyuan, Pluem’s father, introduced her to golf at 10 years old.
“I always knew that she was athletic so we got her into sports when she was young,” He said. “She picked up golf very quickly—it amazed me. Pluem still amazes me to this day.”
Yongyuan has had numerous accomplishments during her time at SUU. Each season that she has competed in has been a new opportunity for her to gain national recognition.
In the 2018-19 golf season, during her freshman year, Yongyuan won her very first collegiate tournament at Utah Valley University’s Hobble Creek Classic.
Yongyuan carded a 210 (76, 63, 71) for the three rounds. The score of her eight-under-par, 63, has continued to remain her personal best round.
“After shooting a 63, it felt unreal,” Yongyuan said. “I was shocked. The round could not have been more perfect.”
Yongyuan finished her freshman year on a high. She had two individual wins and eight top-10 finishes throughout the season as well as being named Big Sky Freshman of the Year.
With her numerous top finishes and national recognition, Yongyuan was named to the Big Sky All-Conference First Team and became the first women’s golfer from SUU to be invited to the NCAA regionals.
Entering her sophomore year in the 2019-20 season, Yongyuan earned her third career win at the Wyoming Cowgirl Desert Intercollegiate by carding a 219 (69, 76, 74).
Yongyuan’s sophomore year season was cut short due to the COVID pandemic. The remainder of the 2019-20 season and the fall season of the 2020-21 year were canceled for safety precautions.
Although her sophomore season was cut short, Yongyuan was named to the Big Sky All-Conference First Team for the second consecutive team.
During the time off from competing, the women’s team got the opportunity to build their relationships and strengthen the team dynamic.
“Our team dynamic has been very good,” Yongyuan said. “We worked hard together and cheered for one another to prepare for the upcoming season.”
The hard work and dedication paid off for Yongyuan. She earned her fourth career win at the Grand Canyon University Invitational after collegiate play had resumed during the spring 2021 season.
Almost immediately after her win, Yongyuan was ranked as the No. 1 Individual in the NCAA.
“Being ranked as the No. 1 in the NCAA has been my proudest accomplishment,” Yongyuan said. “It was a surreal feeling and I was so proud to represent SUU.”
To end her junior year, Yongyuan finished in the top-10 during the Big Sky Conference Championship and was named in the Big Sky All-Conference First Team for the third consecutive time. Yongyuan became the second Thunderbird to be named to the First Team, but the only T-Bird with three First Team honors.
As Yongyuan has competed throughout her senior year, her record breaking streak has continued.
After her most recent win at the Lady Thunderbird Pizza Invitational, Yongyuan set the record for the most career Big Sky Conference Women's Golfer of the Week awards.
“I feel really happy and proud,” Yongyuan said. “Setting the record is an honor and I am so grateful to be a part of the golf program.”
Yongyuan overtook the record of the previous holder, A Ram Choi of Portland State University, who had won the award 11 times.
“We are really proud of Pluem in winning her sixth individual title and breaking this conference record,” Church said. “We are very excited to see what the future holds both here at Southern Utah University and in Pluem's future golfing career.”
Although Yongyuan’s senior year is nearing its end, she is laser-focused on her future golf career.
After the pandemic cut the 2019-20 NCAA season short, athletes were granted an extra year of eligibility. Yongyuan plans to take her extra year if she does not turn professional first.
“Playing for SUU has meant the world to me. I would be happy to stay another year but if I get the option to turn professional, it would be a job that I would enjoy doing every single day,” Yongyuan said.
Yongyuan has made a significant impact for the women’s golf program at SUU. Her standings have brought national attention not only to her game but also to the university’s program.
“In the coming years, I expect SUU to have a great program for the next generation,” Yongyuan said. “I think the program can help athletes improve their skills to get to the next level and fulfill their college golf dreams.”
Lexi Hamel, from St. George, Utah, is a Southern Utah University senior on the Women’s Golf team. Hamel is majoring in political science and will head to Washington D.C. this summer to work for a consulting firm. In 2020-21 She was honored for her academic achievement by the Women’s Golf Coaches Association.