I once jokingly called myself a student-athlete when I ran JV track in high school (my only qualifying event being the 4x100M relay). But I never fully understood what it truly meant to be a student-athlete—what life is like for the minor percentage of the student body who play sports on a collegiate level to use it as a stepping stone into a professional career.
Do they all attend some of the best schools in the country receiving full rides and athletic scholarships despite having a below-average GPA?
Do they all fit the overlying stereotype of being Comm Majors who miss out half the quarter to compete at some tournament in Hawaii?
Do they avoid dining halls and dorm life since they're too "famous" to be a normal student?
If there's one person who can break these stereotypes, it's Patty Tavatanakit. At 19 years old, she's achieved more than your average rookie in the sport of golf. Her list of achievements includes Pac 12 Freshman of the Year, 5 Time Champion, WGCA First Team All American, 2016 AJGA Rolex Junior Player of the Year, among others.
The UCLA Women's Golf Team has recently been ranked #1 in Division 1 Golf during this past season and Tavatanakit is blazing the path for herself and her teammates.
Besides her personalized golf clubs, colorful visors and record-breaking swings, however, she's a student just like any one of us.
A student who moved to LA straight out of Bangkok, Thailand at 18 years old and experiences homesickness like you and me.
She's fervently passionate about pursuing her studies in her intended major—psychology.
She too fangirls over Sprinkles Cupcakes, eats at the dining halls (BPlate being her favorite), attends football games and lives with roommates.
I had the chance to catch up with her in midst of a hectic tournament schedule to share her perspective of life as a Student-Athlete.
1. How would you describe your experience as an undergraduate student here at UCLA having moved to LA all the way from Bangkok, Thailand?
Honestly, I didn't know that the quarter system could be such a grind! I realized that it's very do-able, though, if you manage your time wisely. Living in the dorm my freshman year was another struggle I experienced because I found it was like living in a hotel room. The transition from high school to college is already tough and it didn't help that half the time I felt very empty inside without my parents. I'm sure a majority of students here experienced homesickness so I can relate.
Nevertheless, I'm thankful for everything that happened both good and bad—college is a once in a lifetime opportunity, so having fun and enjoying my journey here at UCLA is my number one priority.
2. What would you say is your biggest challenge/struggle when it comes to being a D1 Student-Athlete?
Student-Athlete life keeps me pretty busy. My biggest challenge is catching up with coursework after I was gone for a team event/national competition. Especially golf—it usually takes a whole week to compete for one event which includes 1 practice round (approx 4-6 hours/day) and 3-4 competitive rounds (approx 4-7 hours/day). It's energy consuming and it sucks coming back after a long day knowing you have assignments waiting to be submitted. Overall, I keep the mindset that it's my responsibility to finish each task and move onto the next.
3. How do you feel that the community and resources of a public institution at UCLA are helping you achieve your dreams both in academics and sports?
First and foremost, I'm beyond grateful to be a part of the UCLA family and this diverse community. UCLA has offered plentiful academic resources for me to excel academically including the writing programs, peer learning, libraries, among others. I've met so many inspirational people who have had an impact on my collegiate career—without the help of the UCLA Athletic Department (and others that I fail to mention right now) I would not have been able to accomplish all my goals I set this year.
4. UCLA Women's Golf Team has recently been ranked #1 in NCAA Division I Golf. Please tell me a little bit about the team and how they have given you the opportunity to become the successful athlete you are now.
The reason why we're ranked No. 1 is that we set the same goals, we work hard whilst motivating/looking out for each other. We are willing to sacrifice what it takes to succeed. Last year, I was the youngest on the team and I feel as if I have grown so much not only as a player but also as a person. They were the reason why I've wanted to change myself to become a better person—they taught me responsibility both on and off the golf course. I am very thankful to have them as part of my journey.
5. Do you have any advice for those aspiring to continue doing sports in college?
I would say follow your dream, knowing that the path will not run smooth. There will be obstacles along the way but the challenge is to overcome each of them in order to be successful.
6. When/How did you get your start in golf? Do you have any plans to go into the LPGA upon graduation?
Tiger Woods got me into the game of golf. I saw him on TV and one thing he taught me in life is to become successful. He is my role model and I've wanted to become like him ever since I started playing golf at 8 years old. I plan to turn professional when I think I am ready to go out on tour, not necessary after "4 years of college".
7. How do you personally use Social Media Platforms? Do you hope to become a role model or mentor to younger people through your influence?
I use platforms (such as Instagram) to inspire younger generations to pursue their dreams. It is like my journal—to show people the balance of my life in being both "Student" and "Athlete". I think it's also important to have a social life because being happy and enjoying what you're doing helps you set new goals and see the person you want to become in the future. I would love to become a role model or a mentor to young kids one day.