Jenny Chuasiriporn will play her first event as a professional this week at the 54th U.S. Women's Open, the event in which she made her mark last year. She forced a Monday playoff that went 20 holes, before Se Ri Pak prevailed, and left with the highest amateur finish in 31 years.

When asked about playing for pay at age 21, Chuasiriporn demonstrated the demeanor you would expect from a psychology major and recent graduate of Duke University.

"It doesn't feel any different for me right now," the Baltimore native said. "It's nice to look back at a strong amateur career. I'm excited. I feel like I'm ready for the next level of competition. This course will not be as stressful--no, not as difficult as last year. It should be fun."

Especially the first two days. Chuasiriporn will play the opening two rounds at steamy Old Waverly with golf's grande dame, Nancy Lopez, trying to win her first Open title in 23 appearances, and Kris Tschetter, now a full-time resident of McLean, who has been a runner-up in nine LPGA tournaments, with one victory.

Chuasiriporn said today that she has spoken to Lopez a number of times over the last year and considered her someone she would like to emulate both on and off the course.

"I think the world of Nancy," Chuasiriporn said. "I always say I really look to her for just the balance she has in her life, just with her family and her golf. That's one of the things I'm going to look toward in the future. I just think that's so important. I've never played with her before, but I've talked to her off the course quite a bit. She helped me just with making the adjustment [from amateur to pro]. She helped me out a little bit with picking a management company, and I'm sure down the line she'll give me some more advice."

Chuasiriporn, the daughter of Thai immigrants who own a restaurant in Baltimore, has signed with Richmond-based Pros Inc., a management company headed by former U.S. Amateur champion Vinnie Giles. The same firm also handles Davis Love III, Tom Kite and Justin Leonard, among others on the men's tour, and Beth Daniel and Meg Mallon on the LPGA circuit.

So far Chuasiriporn, who turned pro last week, has signed a few minor endorsement deals with ball, glove and shoe companies. If she had turned pro after last year's Open, she likely would have commanded huge contracts, but she wanted to stay at Duke for her senior year. She helped Duke's golf team win the NCAA championship two weeks ago.

"I think about [last year's Open] a lot," she said. "There is that sense of disappointment, but I'm also just a big believer in things happening for a reason. Had I won, it really would have been hectic. So it turned out to be a great combination for my golf game and my kind of life, my student life. So I got the recognition I always wanted, but I was also able to go back to school. I didn't want to turn pro at all. There was nothing in me that wanted to turn pro at that time."

She knows that there will be great expectations for her here at a far easier course than Blackwolf Run, but she also insisted she is trying not to put any pressure on herself to duplicate last year's performance in her third Open appearance. She also finished as the low amateur in the 1997 Open, and for the third straight year, her brother Joey will caddie for her.

"I realize there are a lot of expectations," she said. "I ran into a little bit of that problem toward the end of my college career because I did have a lot of expectations for me and my team heading into the [NCAA tournament]. But I learned so much from that. You can't really play golf thinking about that.

"All I really care about is hitting the ball well. You can't really concern [yourself with] anything else that happens. I'm not really worried about finishing a certain way again. I feel confident coming to a course like this because my ball-striking is good, and that will get me a long way."

CAPTION: Jenny Chuasiriporn lost a 20-hole playoff to Se Ri Pak at last year's Open, but opted to complete her senior year at Duke before she turned professional.