DUPONT, Wash. – For many of the contestants in this week’s U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship, the summer months bring a respite from the rigors of academics and offer plenty of opportunities for competitive golf.
Some use this time to prepare for bigger goals down the road, such as LPGA Tour Qualifying School, while others hope to attract the attention of colleage golf coaches and earn a scholarship.
Then there is T.J. Kliebphipat. In the spring, the 22-year-old from Panorama City, Calif., received her diploma from Gonzaga University in finance and international business. Feeling her game wasn’t polished enough for professional golf, Kliebphipat started searching for employment opportunities, mainly in the golf business.
As she waded through job postings, Kliebphipat, came across a USGA P.J. Boatwright internship at the Southern California Golf Association. The 12-month position involves working with the association’s Youth on Course program, whose mission is to promote the education and character development of Southern California youth through golf.
The program allows juniors affordable access to golf facilities. Kids can play and practice at participating courses for as little as $2. They also receive instruction and a membership to the SCGA, which includes a GHIN number to allow them to post scores and establish a Handicap Index.
This was exactly the opportunity Kliebphipat sought. She had grown up in the San Fernando Valley, where the Pacoima Junior Golf Association arranged for kids to play area municipal courses for a $40 annual fee.
Kliebphipat landed the internship in early July, a couple weeks before departing for the 2014 WAPL at The Home Course, where she qualified for match play with rounds of 71-70 (3-under 141). With the blessing of her bosses, Kliebphipat was given time off to compete, perhaps setting a good example for Youth on Course participants that standout golfers can come from all walks of life, not just those with financial means.
“I hope they are watching me right now,” said Kliebphipat, one of four Gonzaga golfers in the field.
Only a few weeks into her internship, Kliebphipat still is getting acclimated to her role, which so far has involved a lot of data entry. The program tracks the number of range balls purchased and rounds played by each Youth on Course participant.
To ensure Youth on Course fulfills its mission, the SCGA absorbs a major portion of administrative overhead and contributes funds to assist in its projects. Part of that funding comes from the USGA through the Boatwright internship.
Earlier this year, Lakeside Golf Club in Burbank, Calif., hosted a Youth on Course tournament that raised more than $150,000. Past USGA President Jim Vernon, who is now the Youth on Course president, brought in his longtime friend and fellow Stanford alum Tom Watson, an eight-time major champion and 2014 U.S. Ryder Cup captain, along with past USGA President Sandy Tatum and SCGA Hall of Famer Eddie Merrins, the pro emeritus at Bel-Air Country Club in Los Angeles.
“$260 per month is what it would cost if you had two children who loved golf, and simply wanted to play and practice just five times per month,” Vernon said in a release on the SCGA website. “But with the Youth on Course Golf Pass, the monthly cost drops to just $60.”
The tremendous opportunities offered by this program are not lost on Kliebphipat.
“We have thousands of kids [participating],” she said. “We provide them a shirt, a hat, a bag tag and a membership card. This helps them develop a handicap throughout their years [in the program].”
So far Kliebphipat has spent most of her internship in the office, but she eagerly awaits the chance to meet many of the program’s participants. She also will be visiting the 150-plus courses in Southern California to hand out brochures promoting Youth on Course.
“Our program stretches from Oxnard [in Ventura County] down to San Diego,” she said. “[In just a few weeks], I’ve filled out a couple thousand entries already.”
Working 7:30 to 4:30 each day leaves Kliebphipat some time to continue honing her golf skills. Given the hot summer temperatures, she enjoys practicing or playing nine holes at twilight. This is her third appearance in the WAPL – she missed match play in 2011 at Bandon Dunes in Oregon but advanced to the Round of 32 in 2012 at Neshanic Valley in New Jersey. She also qualified for the 2008 U.S. Girls’ Junior at Hartford Golf Club in West Hartford, Conn., where she missed the match-play cut.
She didn’t win a tournament in her four years at Gonzaga, but had several top-10 finishes. The team also played a fun round at The Home Course last October en route to seeing the host site of the West Coast Conference Championship, Gold Mountain Golf Course in nearby Bremerton.
As soon as the WAPL concludes – Kliebphipat hopes that will be after Saturday’s 36-hole championship match – she’ll head back to California to resume her internship. Once that ends, she isn’t sure of her next career move. She’s thinking about going to Q-School, becoming a teaching pro or even owning and operating her own course.
Whatever she chooses, Kliebphipat is thankful for the experience she is getting as a Boatwright intern, and thankful that her path in golf has led her to yet another USGA championship.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer with the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.