Michigan State University
The Spirit Golf Association is excited to welcome Valery Plata to the 2021 Player Field. We caught up with Valery, to talk about her collegiate golf career and the upcoming Spirit International.
Q: You had a fantastic junior career winning multiple South American team championships for Colombia. How special was the individual title you won in 2015?
Winning the individual title in 2015 meant the world to me at the time (it still means a lot), it was one of the first few times I represented my country on such a big stage. The event was conducted in Colombia, actually in my hometown, so having my family, team, and friends cheering for me on the 18th hole and closing ceremony was really special.
Q: How did playing team events like the World Junior Golf Team Championship better prepare you for college golf?
Playing team events for your country is pretty much the only thing you know about team golf before going to college for people like me (outside the U.S.), events like the WJTC give you a little taste of what that is like. It is a different atmosphere than an individual tournament, you get to experience what playing for something/someone besides yourself feels like, which is what we get to do in college golf and team events for our national teams, you are not only playing for you but for your teammates, coaches, and your school or country.
Q: Most student-athletes have a tough time making the transition from high school to college. How were you able to earn the WGCA Scholar All-American Award your freshman year at Michigan State?
I think I was an All-American Scholar in my freshman year because of two things. First, here at Michigan State, we place a really high value on academics. I knew that from the start my schoolwork was going to be very important, so I turned it into a priority. Also, I knew that I would have all the resources here to help me succeed in that aspect and a lot of people were willing to help me when I needed it. The second reason is that in high school, I traveled a lot during the school year (maybe more than in college at times) and I always had a heavy workload, so through those years, I was able to learn about time management skills and study habits that still help me to this day.
Q: You took a huge leap in your game sophomore year, recording 10 rounds under par and earned Big Ten Player of the Year. What did that say about your work ethic?
I think it showed that hard work really pays off, maybe not when we expect it, but it always does! I worked really hard on the summer after my freshman year because I knew how much better I could become, I really wanted to go back to East Lansing in August better than what I left in May. I also think it was a big demonstration of commitment to a process and to the little things that you do every day that help you improve over time, if you would’ve told me at the beginning of the year that I was going to be the best player of the conference at the end of the season I wouldn’t have believed you, but I knew that if I kept doing what I needed the results were going to come eventually.
Q: What was more rewarding? Earning the George Alderton co-athlete of the year (Michigan State’s highest athletic honor), or Big Ten Player of the Year?
I can’t choose! It was very rewarding to earn both of those honors in the same year. The George Alderton co-athlete of the year is really special since they look at every single female athlete from the 12 sports in the university (at the time). There are a few people I know and look up to who have earned this honor, and getting to join that special group is pretty sweet. The Big Ten Player of the Year is also a huge deal, there have been some really good golfers in that group, and knowing that I am good enough to be in it is an honor. I have never really gotten “awards” like this before, so to know that I joined two groups of elite athletes/golfers is a little surreal if I am being honest.
Q: You kept the momentum going that summer, making it to the semifinals of the 2020 U.S. Women’s Amateur at Woodmont Country Club.
I did! The 2020 U.S Women’s Amateur was one of the best weeks of golf I have had in my career. After everything that was happening in the world, I felt very fortunate to even be playing in the event. Getting all the way through to the semifinals was dreamlike, I still go back to that week and try to wrap my head around everything that happened at Woodmont Country Club, it has gotten a bit easier with time, but it is one of the few positive memories from 2020.
Q: Your junior year (2021) saw you win the Indiana Invitational and record the third-best scoring average in Michigan State history (72.26). How big a role did that play in earning a sponsor’s exemption into the Meijer LPGA Classic?
I think all my three years at Michigan State have been building into earning the sponsor’s exemption into the 2021 Meijer LPGA Classic. The results from the ’20-’21 season were what I needed to become a strong candidate for the invitation, receiving it and getting to test my game with the best players in the world in my “home” stat was an experience I will never forget.
Q: Colombia finished 5th as a combined team in the 2019 Spirit International Amateur Golf Championship. How will you look to improve on that this year?
Both of us who played for Colombia in 2019 will be returning to Whispering Pines this year, so I think that is an advantage. We know the golf course, know how to play it, and know what we need to work on to get ready for it. I think we have a great opportunity to improve the last edition’s result, we will be a little more familiar with the four-ball format, I know we will do what worked for us as a team in 2019 and figure out the few things that didn’t work great back then. I am sure both of us are willing to give it our all out there to put Colombia’s flag as high as possible on the leaderboard.
Q: What does it mean to represent Colombia at this year’s Spirit?
Representing my country is always an honor, getting to do it at such a prestigious event as the Spirit makes it way better. Everything about the week is special, I can’t wait to go back to Whispering Pines and Camp Olympia in a couple of weeks.