Golf: Patipaksiri boosts Anteaters

UC Irvine senior Lalita Patipaksiri has quite a full plate.

She works two jobs, is taking 24 units and is the only senior on a UCI team fresh off a fifth-place finish in the Juli Inkster Invitational in San Jose, where Patipaksiri had her best tournament of the spring season. She finished third overall, at even par, two shots behind champion Joanne Lee of Cal.

Patipaksiri and teammates were blasting balls into a net inside Crawford Hall on Sunday in preparation for the Anteater Invitational Monday and Tuesday at Dove Canyon Country Club.

She took a few minutes to talk about the Juli Inkster Invitational, reflect on her college career and describe how she got into golf.

She started ice skating at a young age, but when she was 9 she switched to golf to make it easier for her parents, who had to drive her to the ice rink and her older brother Andrew to the golf course.

"I switched [sports] so my parents didn't have to drive both places," Patipaksiri said. Andrew played golf at UC Riverside and Lalita said he plays professionally on smaller tours.

"I'm happy with golf because it's more long-term," Patipaksiri said.

She starred at Cypress High, helping the Centurions go 15-0 in 2005, according to the Orange County Register. She was medalist in every match that year. In 2007 she was part of the Southern California team that won the 30th Girls' Junior America's Cup at Waverley Country Club in Portland, Ore.

Patipaksiri has been a consistent performer for UCI. She played all 31 rounds as a freshman and earned second-team All-Big West Conference honors her sophomore and junior years. As a junior, Patipaksiri finished fourth in the conference tournament and ended the year with four top-10 finishes.

She has been pleased with her Anteater career.

"At the end of every season [coach Julie Brooks] gives an individual meeting to assess our progress," Patipaksiri explained. "One of the things is lower scoring average and I've done that every year." Patipaksiri led the Anteaters with a 75.36 stroke average in 11 rounds last fall.

Patipaksiri finished the Juli Inkster Invitational at even par (73-71-72 — 216), playing the Almaden Golf & Country Club for the fourth straight season. UCI placed fifth among 12 teams.

"I always tended to mess up in one round,' Patipaksiri said. "This is the first tournament I was able to consistently play well all three rounds. I knew I was close to the lead. In my mind I wasn't thinking I have a chance to win, but felt like I was capable. I was hitting it straight and made putts when I needed to. I made a few long ones that really helped me play well.

"[The course] is infamous for bad weather. The last day was really windy and I hate playing in the wind. I was surprised I finished strong."

Brooks said Patipaksiri's progress the last four years is evident from tee to green.

"She's executing better now than ever," Brooks said. "She can go through the round before she plays and knows where she needs to be." Patispaksiri stands 5-foot-2. She's learned how to tailor her game to her size.

"I'm not that long of a hitter so I need to work on fairway wood and approach shots to the greens," she said. "I've learned where to miss, so it's easier to chip. Working on the short game is key."

Patipaksiri said being more composed has also helped.

"I used to be really nervous traveling and playing in tournaments," she said. "I had high expectations and put pressure on myself. I've gotten a lot better. I've overcome [the nerves] through experience. I can't jump ahead of myself."

She's also learned how to handle injury.

Three weeks ago Patipaksiri was standing on a ladder, scooping practice balls out of a machine at El Dorado Golf Course in Long Beach, where she works in the pro shop and as a starter. She fell and twisted her right foot, spraining a ligament in her ankle. She wore a protective boot and took some time off.

"I was down all week," Patipaksiri said. Brooks suggested Patipaksiri try playing Dove Canyon in preparation for the Anteater Invitational. Patipaksiri give it a go and shot 74, boot and all.

"That's the first time I've seen someone play in a boot," Brooks said.

"I knew I would be fine for [the Anteater Invitational] but I don't want to just play, I want to compete," Patipaksiri said. "I went to rehab every day. There's no point [in playing] if I know I can't perform at the highest level."

Patipaksiri said the ankle still hurts when she walks up and down hills, but she was wearing tennis shoes Sunday.

This July she plans to try qualifying school.

First things first. She wants to enjoy every minute on the course with her teammates.

"We have great chemistry on the team this year," Patipaksiri said. "I don't want to go out into the real world yet."

In order to qualify for the NCAA regional, UCI has to either win the conference or place among the top 60 in the Golfstat rankings, Brooks confirmed in an e-mail. UCI was ranked 75th as of March 21.

Patipaksiri will try to qualify as a professional, possibly on the Cactus Tour, a developmental tour based in Arizona.

If she's not playing golf as a professional, Patipaksiri would like to continue working in the golf business.

"I've dedicated so much time and effort into the game that if I were to never go to a golf course again that would be really hard for me," she said.

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