Michigan State was a coincidence for Valery Plata. When she made a trip from her home country, Colombia, to attend a recruitment visit, she was instantly inspired by the close-knit community of Spartans. It was exactly the kind of place that Plata was searching for, and it would soon become her home away from home. As a member of the MSU women’s golf team, Plata has pushed herself to achieve at the highest level.
While competing as a Spartan, Plata was named the Big Ten Player of the Year and won the George Alderton Co-Female Athlete of the Year, both in 2020. She helped the team win the 2020–21 Big Ten Championship and received the Mary Fossum Award in 2021. She was also recognized for her stellar academic performance as a three-time Academic All-American and Academic All Big Ten.
Topping it off, she’s currently playing pro golf and tied for 48th in the LPGA Lotte Championship earlier this month — an impressive way to spend her final semester.
“I think what has kept me motivated throughout my journey is the constant look for improvement. In my sport and I think generally, there is always something you can do better. I also love competing, so doing well because of the hard work I put into it is something that drives me too,” Plata said.
Prior to her senior year, Plata played four events on the LPGA Tour as an amateur: the 2021 and 2022 Meijer LPGA Classic for Simply Give, the 2022 Amundi Evian Championship and the 2022 AIG Women’s Open.
In November 2022, Plata officially turned professional and earned her full status on Tour after finishing in third place at QSeries, a 144-hole stroke-play tournament played across two golf courses in lower Alabama over two weeks. This past March, she competed in her first pro tournament, LPGA Drive On Championship at Superstition Mountain in Gold Canyon, Arizona.
“It felt great to play my first pro event as a member of the LPGA Tour. There were definitely all kinds of emotions going into it, but once I stepped onto the golf course, I was very happy to be there and tried to soak in the moment,” Plata said.
Throughout the rest of this year, Plata will continue to compete at many new places and is equally excited to explore new cities as she is to revisit familiar ones, such as Grand Rapids.
“It will be my third time there but first as a pro, so I am looking forward to being close to ‘home’ and experiencing the event from the position where I’m in now,” she explained.
As a Spartan athlete, Plata had the opportunity to travel with her team to places she had never visited before. She enjoyed supporting fellow athletes in their disciplines, being on the field at Spartan Stadium at the beginning of the year to make a tunnel for the football team, as well as getting recognized alongside past women’s golf Big Ten champions from 2001, 2011 and 2021.
Not only that, but Plata also has fond memories of helping the East Lansing community through outreach alongside her teammates.
“I learned the importance of supporting people, lifting each other up and pushing each other to work hard to achieve our goals,” Plata explained. “I think I have learned just as much from my coach; she is very passionate about what she does and loves the game of golf. One of the main things I have learned from her is the importance of building relationships.
“You never know what the future holds, if someone you played golf with or sat next to on an airplane could help you down the road. It is important to get to know people and what they do,” she added.
Time management was something Plata learned at a very young age. Coming from a demanding school in Columbia along with traveling frequently for individual tournaments prepared her well for her time at MSU, where she has had to balance her athletic career and pursuing her degree. It’s been all about balance.
“We hold student athletes accountable. We have high standards for each of them in the classroom, on the golf course and as members of our community. We surrounded them with a team of people who all want what is best for each young woman. We push them to achieve at the highest level and instill confidence in them, teaching them they can achieve anything they put their mind to,” Stacy Slobodnik, head coach of Michigan State’s women’s golf team, said.
Plata initially decided to pursue a degree in supply chain management because of its recognition as the top program in the country. She quickly saw how suppy chain plays such as an integral role in business and thought it fit her personality the best.
“Over spring break, I went to Panama for a study abroad in global supply chains. It was a great experience for me and my classmates,” she shared. “We got to see everything we have learned in the classroom in action, learn more about Panama’s history and its importance in connecting the world, all while enjoying some amazing local food.”
Some of Plata’s favorite experiences from her time at Broad included meeting new people in different classes and interactions she had with some of the faculty. It was always exciting for her to find a familiar face in the classroom during the first few days of school. Due to her commitments for golf, she would often have to miss classes, but classmates were always willing to offer help.
“I have learned how valuable it is to be kind to everyone you meet or anyone who is a part of your day,” she shared. “Be willing to put in some extra work if needed to obtain the results you want, and learn from mistakes. I had to navigate missing several classes due to tournament travel and spending time trying to work out solutions with different members of the faculty.”
“Valery had tremendous growth during her time in East Lansing,” Slobodnik said. “Valery was very shy and quiet her freshman year, but so talented, and we knew she was observing and processing everything that was happening around her. We slowly kept pushing her, giving her opportunities and confidence along the way that helped her come out of her shell.”
Plata also gives credit to the “gold team” for bringing her out of her shell and improving her communication skills through interactions with her teammates, coaches and people she met in larger settings. Throughout the past few years, she has seen the importance of accountability, teamwork and pushing herself to reach her greatest potential.
“I encourage my fellow MSU student athletes to chase their dreams and to enjoy every moment while at Michigan State, including those competing for the Green and White,” Plata said. “It is one of the best experiences in life, and when you look back on it, you’ll realize how good and fun those days were.”
After taking some time off and returning home to spend time with friends and family during the end of fall 2022, Plata is now looking for sponsors and traveling to tournaments. She has created a daily schedule to prepare in the best way to compete professionally.
After traveling for months on the pro tournaments, Plata is also eager to return to campus and walk across the stage at the Breslin Center next week, as well as give her visiting family a tour of her favorite places on campus. Ecstatic to pursue her love of golf as a career, one of Plata’s future goals is to compete at the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.
“Getting a degree has been a goal for a long time; getting to accomplish it after hard work and dedication makes me proud and grateful to all the people who have been a part of this journey,” Plata said.