Lydia Choi's Transition From The Course To The Court - MTG Series
“Hold the pen and write your own story.” – Lydia Choi
It was the Fall of 2017 and Lydia Choi was headed to a meeting with her coach, the legendary Carrie Forsyth. A few years earlier, Lydia would’ve undoubtedly envisioned a chat like this as the natural precursor to an All-American senior campaign that ended with UCLA capturing its third team national championship of the new Millennium. But things had changed since she’d arrived in Westwood a few years earlier, and this conversation would be setting the stage for an altogether different, yet no less personally fulfilling, outcome.
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Lydia’s dream had always been to play college golf for the hometown Bruins. Before her junior year in high school, Coach Forsyth invited her to make the short drive to campus to learn all about the program. Lydia was so impressed by everything she saw and heard, she verbally committed during that initial visit.
UCLA was the perfect fit, offering exceptional academics and athletics. And to have that package offered in the familiar surroundings of her hometown, where she could gain access to UCLA’s amazing practice courses (enclaves like Bel Air, Los Angeles Country Club, Hillcrest and Brentwood) while her mom’s homemade Korean dishes were just a phone call away? It was a script made for Hollywood and the culmination of years of hard work.
Introduced to the game by her father when she was nine, Lydia grew up playing with her high-school aged brother on L.A.’s historic municipal course, Rancho Park (“Home of the seven-hour round,” she quips). She quickly took to the game, cutting her teeth in SCPGA tournaments before graduating to AJGA Invitationals and USGA Championships during her freshman and sophomore years of high school. It was at those events that she caught the eye of Coach Forsyth. She arrived on campus in the Fall of 2014 having already earned a spot in the team’s starting lineup. NCAA success, followed by a long career on the LPGA Tour, seemed pre-ordained. But a funny thing happened on the way to superstardom as a touring professional.
“My primary goal was to earn a scholarship to play college golf,” Lydia says. “However, once that was accomplished, I had many voices in my head telling me one thing or another. College is where you grow the most and first have autonomy to make your own choices. For a long time, I felt like I was playing for someone else, not myself; I was fulfilling others' happiness and neglecting my own. A switch kind of turned on at some point and my interest in competitive golf gradually decreased.”
While still working out, going to practice and supporting her teammates, by the beginning of her senior year she was no longer traveling to tournaments due to her decline in play. This is what led to the fateful meeting with Coach Forsyth in late 2017.
“It was an open and honest conversation. The coaches always emphasized our personal growth. We were more than just golfers to them; we were individuals that they genuinely cared about.”
Lydia and Coach Forsyth agreed that she could remain on the roster for the balance of her senior season, while beginning to spend more time on activities outside of golf so that she could figure out what her life would look like post-graduation.
With that, Lydia started pounding the pavement as she sought to find her new path. During the winter quarter of her senior year, she landed an internship with Wasserman, the sports marketing and talent management agency. It was her first “office job” and she learned a lot as she helped the golf management team with clients like Morgan Pressel and Tony Finau.
Her degree in hand a quarter early, she then earned a paid internship in Wasserman’s team sports division. There, she gained insight into how they helped their players prepare for the draft, deal with free agency, handle event appearances, and more. As Lydia collected this experience, her road started to become clearer.
She was at Wasserman for almost one year. In those final days, the Los Angeles Clippers held a tour of their training center for a small group of Wasserman interns.
“It was insightful and almost familiar seeing how basketball team worked and operated. Everyone there was driving toward winning a championship. It reminded me a bit of UCLA in that there were so many people ‘behind the scenes’ who played key roles in us reaching our team goals.”
There was one person from that day who Lydia found particularly inspiring – Annemarie Loflin, the team’s Chief of Staff of Basketball Operations. In her role, Annemarie oversaw team travel, handled game day operations, and supported the coaching staff, front office, and ownership. Although she’s a self-professed “big believer in fate,” little did Lydia know that Annemarie would soon become her biggest professional role model and mentor.
A few months after the tour and still in search of her next stop, Lydia decided to email Annemarie out of the blue. She sent her a short note accompanying her resume. In it, Lydia reminded Annemarie of their meeting at the Wasserman intern day and confidently stated she’s “someone who gets things done.”
Much to Lydia’s surprise, Annemarie wrote her back the very next day – which just so happened to be Thanksgiving – and scheduled an interview the following Monday for the open role of basketball operations assistant. The Monday meeting was a daunting whirlwind, as it was split into three parts – one chat with the general manager, another with the assistant general managers, and a third with a panel of individuals in team operations.
“Looking back, I now realize those conversations weren’t about me having the perfect answers. Instead, they were much more for the group to assess whether I was a cultural fit.”
Lydia started Christmas week of 2018. And she hasn’t looked back since.
Her day-to-day responsibilities include supporting the front office leadership and scouts so “all they have to focus on is basketball.” She manages calendars, coordinates meetings and travel, and handles “other duties as assigned” (a catch-all bucket of responsibilities that’s a running joke among her colleagues). On gamedays, she arrives at Staples Center around 5 or 5:30 p.m. to ensure all player guests will be looked after during the game, while also confirming the arena’s VIP and kids’ rooms are well-stocked.
“I really enjoy the games because I get to spend time learning from Annemarie. When we’re in the office, we’re typically so occupied that we don’t see a ton of each other.”
Somewhat surprisingly, Lydia is actually most active during the NBA’s so-called “off season” when she’s helping the team prepare for free agent workouts, the draft and summer league games.
With basketball now her life, Lydia still uses many lessons that were learned from her days in competitive golf.
“I played in many ANNIKA Foundation events, and a valuable lesson she taught me was the importance of nutrition. Annika changed the way women golfers viewed training. She emphasized that food is fuel and what we put into our bodies affects our mood and energy. The ANNIKA tournaments always provided healthier player meals than the others. I took a lot of what she taught to heart and made great strides in my fitness journey.
“Golf also gave me an ability to remain cool in pressure situations as well as experience working with strong personalities. And my attitude of ‘no task is too small’ is taken from the hours I spent practicing two- and three-foot putts. As all golfers know, although they aren’t much fun to work on, they count just as much as the 300-yard drive that splits the fairway.”
Lydia still plays when time allows, as a love of golf is common among her co-workers. Assistant General Manager Mark Hughes is a frequent playing partner; she jokes that “It’s nice to outshine him on the course.” But even with games that are regularly scheduled at the city’s poshest courses, she’ll always have a soft spot for her “peeps” at her old Rancho Park stomping grounds.
“I will readily admit that I’m still maturing as a person. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that there’s no such thing as the ‘best’ career path. More accurately, it’s your path – you’ll only be successful if it’s yours, you’ll only work hard if it’s yours, and you’ll only be happy if it’s yours. It can’t be someone else’s.”
With that level introspection and self-assurance, there’s little doubt Lydia Choi is much more mature than she gives herself credit for and that she’ll be ready for whatever comes next in her exciting professional journey.