What does a high school valedictorian and 2014 Columbia University graduate do with a major in political science? Head to law school? Go to work in Washington?
If you are Michelle Piyapattra from Corona, California you don’t take an expected route. You aim for what only three other graduates of Ivy League universities have ever done. You set your sights on becoming a player on the LPGA Tour. If she reaches her destination on this unusual career path Piyapattra would join Heather Daly-Donofrio (Yale – ’91)), Jeehae Lee (Yale – ‘06), and Kelly Shon (Princeton – ’14) as the only other Ivy League graduates to ever earn membership on the LPGA.
Playing professional golf was not even on Piyapattra’s mind when the talented junior golfer was accepted at Columbia, “When I first decided to go to Columbia, I thought that golfing would be over for me just because it was an academic school in New York City and I knew that golfing would be harder because I wouldn’t have the resources that I was used to such as practice facilities and warm weather. Also, I wanted to become a lawyer.”
While handling a rigorous academic schedule, Piyapattra also played on the Columbia women’s golf team. Ivy league schools do not offer athletic scholarships, so she was playing the game for fun and she began to get a lot better. She was selected to the All-Ivy team in three of her four years at Columbia and she was named the Ivy League Player of the Year in her sophomore year. “I didn’t decide to turn pro until college when I started playing well and decided that I should try to pursue golf professionally.”
Michelle competed against Princeton’s Kelly Shon over her four years at Columbia. Shon, who also graduated in 2014, is now in her second season on the LPGA. Shon earned her 2015 LPGA rookie card at the final stage of LPGA Q-School in December of 2014. “I played with Kelly a lot in college and knew how good a junior player she was so it was comforting for me to know that she also chose an Ivy League school when she probably could’ve gone to any school she wanted. It is inspiring to see her get to the LPGA and do so well there and hopefully I can join her very soon. “
Piyapattra spent her 2015 season as a new professional golfer on the Symetra Tour, adjusting to the grind of traveling to events week after week (mostly by car) in many different corners of the country, “My first season on the Symetra Tour was a very eye-opening and hectic experience. I played in every event except one and also played 3 events on the Canadian Tour. It was very challenging and difficult but also a rewarding experience because I met so many great people along the way including players, hosts, and caddies and I was very pleased to have that opportunity.”
She qualified to play in the final stage of LPGA Q-School last December but failed to earn any LPGA status in the grueling five-day event, “After finally getting to Stage III of Q-school last year, it made me realize where my game had to be to compete at the top level, and since then I’ve been working on my tempo during my off-time to prepare for the upcoming season. I feel much better and prepared going into this 2016 season because now I know what to expect and also because I have played many of the courses already.”
Piyapattra’s parents came to the United States from Thailand. Her father was an Olympic athlete, representing Thailand in archery in the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. He took up golf here in the U S. He first taught Michelle the game and he often caddies for her in events. Nothing would make him prouder than to see his daughter reach the top level of her chosen sport.
That is her objective for this year as the long Symetra Tour season with its 23 events gets into full swing this month with three events in Florida, “I’ve been working on my approach shots and just trying to put myself in better position to make birdies and go low since that’s what it takes to get into the top-10 at the end of the season.” There will be four former Ivy Leaguers that made their way to the LPGA if all goes according to Michelle Piyapattra’s plan this year.
Dave Andrews is a retired television news reporter. He is also an avid golfer who has become a fan of the LPGA and the Symetra Tour.
Dave is the author of Pops and Sunshine, a novel and screenplay about a young woman pro’s dream and struggles to make it to the LPGA. The screenplay has been optioned by a production company in Hollywood. The novel is available at Kindle Ebooks.
Follow Dave online on Twitter @PopsandSunshine