By Stephanie Wei, http://www.weiunderpar.com/
In the fall of my senior year in high school, I made a very
wise call -- in fact, a dozen years later, I refer to it as the smartest
decision in my life (I’m nearly 30 and I have no doubt I’ll stand by those
words when I’m 40, 50, 60, so-on-and-so-forth), which almost eluded me because
in the world of elite competitive junior golf, it wasn’t the norm.
Instead of accepting a (partial) scholarship to a Division I women’s golf powerhouse, I swerved at the last minute and decided to commit to Yale, where I’d still have the opportunity to play DI golf and receive a top-notch education, not to mention graduate with a degree that only more recently I discovered is priceless.
The difference was, Yale, one of the eight Ivy League colleges, does not award athletic scholarships (though they do provide generous financial aid packages), and the level of competition wouldn’t be as intense and the resources provided by the athletic department were less plush than what you’d see at a Pac-12 or Big-12 university (i.e. state-of-the-art indoor facilities and university-issued golf clubs, etc.).
When I started the college recruiting process, I’ll be honest -- I didn’t have my sights set on Yale or another Ivy League university. I’d sent a package, which included a letter personalized for each college, a resume, high school transcript and VHS tape of my swing (yes, VHS! Now I officially feel old!), to around 10 coaches: Northwestern, Stanford, UCLA, University of Washington, USC, and that’s all I can remember off the top of my head.
I can’t stress how glad I am that I explored other options.
Dating back to the time I began to play AJGA tournaments, the goal was to earn a college scholarship at a university known for its athletics and academics. Given I’d always put school ahead of golf -- my parents never had to push me in my studies, but my step-dad had the hyperbolic whip in hand when it came to practicing my chipping -- it wasn’t difficult to narrow down my options and come up with a short list of colleges I hoped to attend.
I credit the AJGA for -- well, a lot of things, including so many wonderful memories -- but most of all how well it prepared me for life after junior golf. The tournaments were incredibly well-organized and the staff was always friendly, though never afraid to put the hammer down when it came to pace of play and proper dress code, like the length of shorts for girls. I love telling people about the five-inch inseam or “dollar-bill” rule -- if your shorts looked shorter than the mandated five-inch inseam, the official on the first tee would pull out a dollar-bill to measure the distance from the top of your knee cap to the bottom of your hemline.
Without the AJGA, I wouldn’t have had any idea how the college recruiting process worked, and I wouldn’t have landed the opportunities to accept scholarships or slip past Yale’s meticulous Admissions Committee.
The AJGA was the junior version of the PGA TOUR and the LPGA, except it was before big bucks and grown-up issues entered the picture. Regardless, I knew it was a glimpse into the life of a touring professional, where we lived out of suitcases and had little spare time outside of playing and practicing (Which is incredibly ironic since that’s what I do now, except I spend all my time writing about the game and those who play it.).
Some of my favorite memories include playing in the horse race at Trophy Lake with Andres Gonzales, Paige MacKenzie and Amy Wang, all of whom still remain three of my dearest friends. Andres decided our team name would be “Andres and the Pussycats,” and he wrote it on our ball in a sharpie marker. Last year he found the ball while digging through his garage.
At the same time, competing at the highest level for juniors wasn’t always sunshine and rainbows, especially for someone like me who didn’t love hitting chips until my hands bled or rolling putts tirelessly on a ruler in the hotel room.
There was a tremendous amount of pressure to perform and play well because it was where we showcased our skills in front of the hordes of college coaches who came out every week to scour the talent and watch potential recruits. It was our chance to impress and make an impression, whether good or bad. I remember how nerve-wracking it was at times seeing a cluster of coaches standing by the green and wondering, “What are they saying? What are they thinking?” No pressure, though!
The most important lesson I took away from the AJGA? I didn’t want to take my golf career beyond college. Did I even have the talent to play professionally? Who knows, but I don’t think I ever reached my potential only because I didn’t have the desire. I strongly believe you can achieve just about anything you will if you’re willing to work hard enough.
From the time I was 12-13, when I wasn’t at school, I was usually practicing or competing. Golf consumed my life, and while I wouldn’t trade my experiences, I knew it wasn’t for me. I had so many other interests beyond golf and there was an endless list of things I wanted to explore. Without the AJGA, I wouldn’t have learned that lesson by the time I was 16-17.
Near the end of the summer before my senior year in high school, I started doing some research into the Ivy League universities. I wasn’t seriously considering them as an option (only because, like I said, none of my junior golf friends were looking at that route), because the golf programs weren’t as strong as say, Northwestern or University of Washington.
I narrowed it down to Yale and Princeton, which appeared to have the strongest teams, and contacted the coaches. If I remember correctly, it was a bit of a scramble because I didn’t start thinking about taking that path until late in the game, relatively speaking.
When it came down to making my decision, it was my step-dad -- the parent who vigilantly oversaw my junior golf career -- who put it in perspective: “Yale! It’s YALE!”
A dozen years later, I think back to the “tough” choice I faced and I laugh. (I feel foolish even admitting to all this.) But for those of you reading, you’re probably playing golf at a high-level or you child is, so you have an idea of where I’m coming from. For others, I’m sure I sound like an entitled idiot, but back then, I seriously had more than one person say to me or my parents, “Why is Stephanie going to Yale?!”
That’s easy: I got to play D1 college golf, while also receiving the best education in the world (forget Harvard) and experiencing four very special years at Yale. Perhaps I didn’t grow as much as a I could have as a golfer, but I did exponentially as an individual. I was lucky I had the fortuitous opportunity to attend such a special school, and when I graduated, I could still do and try anything.
If I wanted to pursue a professional golf career afterward, it wouldn’t have been too late, like one of my former teammates Jeehae Lee. I did the opposite, though, after I graduated and delved into the corporate world, like many of my classmates. I bounced through several industries, including law, finance, event-planning and public relations, before eventually finding my way back to golf. Five years removed from the game, I found my way back to having golf in my life -- fusing it with another interest and forming a niche in the new media.