Sports

All business on the course

Sophie Thai’s side business hasn’t taken off this summer, but her golf game sure has. The Los Altos High junior placed second at back-to-back American Junior Golf Association tournaments last month.

Off the course, Thai’s favorite pastime is arts and crafts, which inspired the 15-year-old to create a business related to her passion for drawing.

“I started a sticker company with a friend earlier this year,” the Los Altos resident said. “It’s not working out, but we’re trying. We draw what we want and donate the profits to an organization that’s (related to) the sticker. If we draw a panda, the profits go to an organization that helps endangered pandas. So far, we’ve only made one sale.”

Sophie Thai
Courtesy of Sophie Thai
Los Altos High golfer Sophie Thai keeps her eye on the ball after hitting a drive. She can hit the ball more than 300 yards.

Thai’s had a lot more success sticking her drives on the green. She played her best golf of the summer over a two-week span in July, finishing as runner-up at consecutive AJGA Junior All-Star Series events.

Thai first posted a three-round score of 211 at the TaylorMade TP5 Junior All-Star, held July 19-22 at Château Élan Golf Club in Braselton, Ga. Shooting 4-under par at the invitational, she finished two strokes back of champion Ava Merrill. Thai then participated in the AJGA Stan Utley and Mid-America Youth Golf Foundation Junior All-Star, which ran July 29-31 at the Country Club of Missouri in Columbia. She finished three strokes behind winner Lucy Yuan with an even-par 147 over two rounds.

Although these efforts matched her highest finish at an AJGA tourney – she came in second at the adidas Junior All-Star a year ago – Thai wasn’t entirely pleased with her recent performances.

“Both of those were a little frustrating,” she said. “I played really well the first few days, but the last day was a little different. Maybe it was nerves.”

Bagging birdies early

Thai got off to a blistering start at both events, leading after the first day on the strength of five birdies in each round.

“My first round in Georgia is my record low so far,” Thai said of shooting a 67. “I’m really proud of that.”

Thai added that she still has work to do on her short game – she practices her putting and chipping nearly every day – but doesn’t have much trouble with driving distance.

“I would say that ball striking is my strength,” said Thai, whose all-time favorite golfer is Seve Ballesteros. “I hit it pretty far compared to my competitors.”

Thai won a long-drive contest last summer with a shot that went 309 yards.

Golf is far more than a physical game, Thai noted, and the mental aspects of it can make or break a round.

“You have to stay very focused,” she said. “Sometimes it’s really hard (to forget a bad shot), especially at a competitive tournament.”

Thai took up golf at age 9 and played in her first tournament that year. She recalled finishing second to last, but that only made her more determined to improve. That, and her desire to be better than her younger sister.

“At first, I competed with my sister and wanted to beat her,” she said of Camille, an eighth-grader at Bullis Charter School who took second in her division at last month’s U.S. Kids Golf World Teen Championship in North Carolina. “That motivated me.”

All in the family

Golf is a family affair for the Thais.

“My dad and mom were both avid golfers and had us play for a family activity,” Thai said. “They don’t play much anymore, but my dad is my main coach.”

The entire family traveled to last month’s string of tournaments, which also served as a vacation. The trip was among Thai’s highlights of what’s been an unusual summer for most.

“We spent a ton of time as a family and saw family friends at Pinehurst,” she said.

Thai and dad Henry took a road trip to Oregon this week for the AJGA Junior at Sunriver, a qualifier for the AJGA Junior Open. School began Monday – on Thai’s 15th birthday – but she’s not missing classes because they are virtual due to the pandemic.

Eagles athletic director Michelle Noeth, who coached last year’s team, noted that Thai made an impact in a variety of ways.

“Sophie is very charismatic,” Noeth said. “She is focused on the course and after a match she is one of the first to congratulate her teammates, her competitors and enjoy the moment.”

Thai aspires to play golf beyond high school – “We’re in the process of contacting (colleges) and figuring it out,” she said – and dreams of being on the LPGA Tour one day.

“If the opportunity presents itself, I would love to go pro,” she said.

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