'Ready to go': Michigan State's Valery Plata set to debut as full member of LPGA

Valery Plata is the 16th MSU alum to compete on the LPGA, and the 13th with exempt status.

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Valery Plata won't graduate from Michigan State until later this spring.

But she's already about to enter the real world, with the former Spartans standout set to make her debut as a card-carrying member of the LPGA. She will tee it up in this week's LPGA Drive On Championship in Gold Canyon, Arizona. The first round is Thursday.

Michigan State golfer Valery Plata will make her debut this weekend as a card-carrying member of the LPGA.

"Oh, it's super exciting," Plata said Wednesday morning, before putting the finishing touches on her practice for the week. "I'm really looking forward to it.

"I'm just getting the final touches ready and getting ready to go."

Plata, 21, had a Michigan State career for the ages, as a three-time, first-team all-Big Ten performer, including the Big Ten player of the year in 2020. She was honorable-mention All-America in 2020, and she has two of the top 10 single-season scoring marks in Michigan State history: 72.26 (third) in 2021 and 72.62 (seventh) in 2022. Plata's career average of 73.15 ranks third all-time in program history.

In 2020, she made the semifinals of the U.S. Amateur, and in 2021 she won the Women’s Amateur Latin America.

She turned pro last November, but already had a little bit of pro-tournament experience while she still was playing at Michigan State. She played in three LPGA events in 2022, and one, Grand Rapids' Meijer LPGA Classic in 2021, when she made the cut. As an amateur, she couldn't collect a paycheck for that showing. Now, she can.

"Oh, I know," she said with a laugh.

The Meijer experience — she also played in the tournament in 2022, missing the cut — was big for her. It proved she could compete at the top level, and could compete in front of big crowds.

"That was, I think, super important for me as a player and as a person who wanted to do this," said Plata, "realizing that I could be there and play my way into the weekend. It was super important."

"Oh, I think that was big," said her college coach, Stacy Slobodnik-Stoll. "Those experiences for her, it opens up your eyes. She understood what it really takes to make it out there. This week, especially (Thursday), it's not gonna be as scary for her. She's played in the Meijer. She's made the cut. She knows we're going to be cheering her on."

Slobodnik-Stoll, who in her 26 seasons as Michigan State's head women's golf coach has guided a number of players who've gone on to the LPGA, will be there Thursday to see her latest make her LPGA debut as a pro. It just so happens Michigan State's women's team has a tournament in Arizona this week, so Slobodnik-Stoll and a few players will be attend Thursday's opening round of the Drive On Championship.

Slobodnik-Stoll spoke to The News while sitting on a plane, waiting to depart for Arizona on Wednesday.

Slobodnik-Stoll said she first started to see something special in Plata during her sophomore year, when she won the prestigious Tar Heel Invitational in the fall of 2019.

"At that point, OK, this kid's good enough. Her work ethic and mental ability on the golf course definitely weren't going to hold her back," Slobodnik-Stoll said. "When you know that's all that kid has ever thought about and dream3d about and wanted, it was not hard to see her doing this.

"The way she pushed herself, it was clear this was her path."

After turning pro last fall, Plata entered the LPGA Q Series, and was second in the first, four-round leg, advancing to the finals, another four-round leg in December. There, she stayed hot and finished 25 under for the eight rounds, finishing third place to earn full LPGA status. Plata will be the 16th Michigan State alum to compete on the LPGA; she'll be the 13th with exempt status.

After earning her LPGA card in Alabama, Plata headed back to East Lansing to handle a couple academic necessities, then went home to Columbia, where she celebrated with friends and family and took a break from golf. She actually didn't pick up a club for a month, she estimates.

"I felt like I needed it," said Plata, who is about to earn a degree in supply chain management.

She got back into the swing of things in January, and last week, she played her first competitive tournament since December, competing in the Epson Tour (LPGA's developmental circuit) event in Arizona. She tied for 22nd place, and earned a modest — but still plenty exciting — $3,558.

Now, it's on to the LPGA, where she will be the state's only full-time member this season (the state has two players on the PGA Tour). She plans to compete regularly through May, then will figure out the remainder of her schedule. She's still trying to find more sponsors. She'll be using an LPGA veteran caddie.

"I got some rust off and competed again, which I think was good for me," Plata said of last week's tournament, in which she said she didn't play her best, but she still finished 4 under par. "I'm a little nervous, but I'm excited I'm going to go play golf again. It's the same sport, so I think that's what I've gotta keep in mind."


Twitter: @tonypaul1984