Among the Stars

Diane Oh/New University

For Lalita Patipaksiri, convenience has paid off. It was one of the reasons why she was named Orange County Player of the Year in 2005 and 2007. It was responsible for a spot on the second-team All-Big West as a sophomore. And now, as a junior, convenience has led Patipaksiri to the NCAA All-Star Team.

Patipaksiri’s journey to become one of the top women’s golfers in the nation did not start on the fairway but rather, on the ice. As a 6-year-old, Patipaksiri immersed herself in ice skating as a way to become more involved and more active. Golf was merely an afterthought, despite having a father who had devoted 35 years to the game and a brother who was just becoming involved in the sport.

“I had no idea what golf was when I was ice skating,” Patipaksiri said. “I just knew my brother played it. I didn’t even know the concepts.”

For three years, Patipaksiri’s parents were tied down with the responsibility of having to drive their eldest son, Andrew, to the golf course for his practice and Lalita to the ice rink. When she reached the age of 9, her father, Tim, wanted her to try golf and she obliged. When she took her first golf swing, she amazed everyone and decided she would stick with it and drop ice skating.

“It was more of a convenient thing to do because my parents would have to drop me off with my friends at the rink and drop my brother off with his friends at the golf course – it was hard. I just stuck with it because it was easier for my parents,” Patipaksiri said about why she stopped skating for golf. “Plus [my parents] felt that I had a gift for the game.”

Golf is an expensive sport – a set of irons can range up to $3,000. When Patipaksiri began to golf, she became the third member of her family to play the sport. Her father, not wanting his daughter’s gift to go to waste, decided he would quit because the cost for three people playing golf would eventually add up, and he wanted to give his daughter an opportunity to play.

Patipaksiri’s decision to stick with golf, combined with her father’s decision to give up the sport, has resulted in much success for the third-year sociology major. From her time in elementary school to junior high, Patipaksiri collected over 100 trophies and awards. Although the competition has stiffened as the years progressed, Patipaksiri garnered about 50 CIF plaques and awards during her time at Cypress High School.

Among all of her trophies and awards, golf’s grueling time commitment has made her question her willingness to stick with the sport. An 18-hole round of golf typically ranges between four and six hours to complete.

“Doing this routine every day, not having time for a social life and seeing some of my friends be couch potatoes has sometimes made me want to become like them,” Patipaksiri said.

However, the enjoyment Patipaksiri has for the game overrides the 5 a.m. wake-up calls for 6 a.m. practice, the time commitment that she devotes to the sport and the little time she gets to herself.

“[I enjoy] that you don’t need to have a perfect swing and that it doesn’t matter what type of clubs you have. It is all about strategizing and using your own techniques,” Patipaksiri said. “I’m glad I’m still playing.”

Patipaksiri’s ability to find enjoyment in golf’s long grind has led her to even more success. She has become the first Anteater to be named to the NCAA All-Star Team and will travel to Asia this summer, making stops in Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong and China to compete in 16 tournaments over the course of 28 days.

This tournament presents a whole new set of challenges for Patipaksiri. She admits that she chose UC Irvine because it is only a few minutes away from her home in Cypress where she goes  every weekend for private golf lessons. The longest and farthest she has been away from home was three weeks when she traveled to Maryland, but traveling to Japan, South Korea and China – places she has never visited before – will provide a whole new experience.

Patipaksiri will also experience a different level of competition. Besides playing alongside top women’s golfers representing Stanford University, University of Arizona and Yale, she will also be competing with international golfers.

“It will be a different sense of competition. I don’t know how international people play,” Patipaksiri said. “Their sense of playing the game of golf and mindset is going to be different. It will be fun and different finding out their perspectives.”

Just like her brother Andrew, who attends UC Riverside, Patipaksiri plans on playing professional golf, and this summer tournament will help her seek the improvement that she wants and needs in order to play at the next level.

“I think I just have to see where I am at next year,” Patipaksiri said. “If I don’t improve by then, it will be really hard and a struggle because I am so small in size. I need to find different ways to compete with those girls who are six feet tall and weigh 180 pounds.”

So far, the 5-foot-1 golfer has used her short game to excel at the collegiate level and make up for her lack of size and power. Although she may not be as tall as Michelle Wie or have Lorena Ochoa’s combination of power and finesse, Patipaksiri knows that she has a chance to compete with the top women’s golfers of the Ladies of the Professional Golf Association, because her idol and inspiration Ai Miyazato, a 5-foot-2 golfer, has had success at the professional level.