GRAND RAPIDS, MICHIGAN | Colombian Amateur Valery Plata is playing her second professional tournament at the Meijer LPGA Classic for Simply Give, thanks to a sponsor invite. In 2021, she took advantage of another invite from Meijer to debut in her first professional event and make the cut.
“I made the cut one better than the number. Then I played with Stacy Lewis on the third round, and I played the last round with the number-one player in the world, Jin Young Ko. These girls are so good. I was a little starstruck and it was pretty cool,” said the 21-year-old from Bucaramanga and senior at Michigan State University (MSU).
The 5-foot, 4-inch and kind of shy Plata is elevating the level of women’s golf in Colombia. In 2020, she earned Big Ten Player of the Year honors and reached the semifinals of the US Women’s Amateur. She finished 2021 with three consecutive victories, including the Women’s Amateur Latin America (WALA) in Argentina.
Her victory at the WALA granted her a spot at two majors in 2022, the Amundi Evian Championship in July and the AIG Women’s Open in August. “It was very nice in Argentina, a good golf course with very good players. Now we are figuring out where to stay with my parents during the events in France and Scotland,” said Plata, who won the WALA by one shot over fellow countrywoman Maria Jose Marin.
“It is nice to see a new generation coming with Valery and Maria Jose. The two top players from South America are from Colombia now,” said Mariajo Uribe, a Colombian veteran of the LPGA Tour also in the field of the Meijer this week.
“I always knew she was going to be good,” said Uribe, winner of the US Amateur in 2007 when she was 17 years old, who met Plata, her neighbor in Bucaramanga, when she started playing golf. “She is such an introvert and then on the golf course you can see that feisty part of her. She is a fighter.”
Uribe has been a reference and a mentor for Plata for more than a decade. “I am more comfortable now just calling Mariajo if I have questions. Like I switched putters three months ago and she helped me figure it out. We have really become good friends,” said Plata, who plans to turn professional after finishing her business major at MSU.
“I always tell her that everything happens for a reason,” said her coach at MSU, Stacy Slobodnik-Stoll, about a phrase that has become a mantra for Plata. “She is on the shy side, although in the last four years of her being here she has really blossomed and become more outgoing.”
Slobodnik-Stoll shares the common view about Plata’s impressive game: “She is a gamer. She knows how to win, and she likes to win.” In fact, winning and competing is what got young Valery devoted to the game of golf.
“It was just kind of fate and destiny. No one in my family played golf. Then I started going with my brother to a public course, we played a tournament and I got hooked with the competitive aspect. I knew pretty early on that I really like to compete,” said Plata before teeing off in her second professional event.
This week’s Meijer LPGA Classic for Simply Give, with 18 of the top 20 LPGA players in the field, seems a good precursor for Valery Plata first two majors in 2022 and for the elevation of women’s golf in Colombia and the Southern Hemisphere.