Senior Venecia Zaia poses for a photo on Sept. 16 at Mulvhill Golf Learning Center. Zaia is originally from Murietta, California. (Adeline Horan/B&W Staff)

Senior women’s golf transfer finds family through unfamiliarity


Women’s golf senior transfer Venecia Zaia discovered her first driving range when she was 7 years old. She and her family drove by a range all the time and she never understood why there was such a large patch of grass in a residential area. One day, she asked.

In simple terms, her father explained to her that it was where people golfed.

“Basically, you hit a ball with a stick-like club and you try to get it in this tiny hole,” Zaia said, recalling what her dad told her.

She began golfing that day and has not looked back since. 

This season, Zaia finished in seventh place at the Bucknell Invitational on Sept. 9 and 10. She also finished in 29th place at Delaware State’s Hornet Classic at the Creek on Sept. 18 and 19.

Zaia said she has always been a people person, so her favorite thing about golf is how many people she has met through the sport.

“Every tournament I get paired up with a new person,” Zaia said. “I love getting to know somebody, and when you’re playing 18 holes, you really do get to know who you’re playing with.”

Zaia said the source of her motivation is her family and coaches, especially since her golf coach since middle school, John Hardy, recently passed away at 96. She said this has motivated her further. 

“Losing him last year, I think that kind of lit a fire in me a little bit,” Zaia said. 

Hardy was widely respected and accomplished in the golf world, having toured with both Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. When he took Zaia on as a student, he was in his late 80’s. 

After watching her hit a few balls, Zaia said Hardy was impressed with her talent. Hardy agreed to coach Zaia, and she was one of his two students for several years. They became very close and Zaia said she looked up to him as a mentor on and off the course.

“My grandparents were far away and I didn’t see them much,” Zaia said. “So when I would see John Hardy, he was kind of like my grandfather and my golf coach. He was family for sure.” 

After graduating from Vista Murrieta High School, Zaia committed to the University of North Carolina at Asheville to play golf.

But once Zaia got to UNC, she realized she didn’t mesh very well with her teammates or the coaches.

Zaia felt like her coaches continually let their “number one player down” despite her athletic success.

“I just felt kind of like I was running in a circle,” she said. “I really wanted to prove some kind of point, but the point didn’t have any meaning.”

While she considered transferring, she said her own pride got in the way and she wanted to show everyone she could make it work. 

Senior Venecia Zaia hits a drive on Sept. 16 at Mulvhill Golf Learning Center. Zaia recently finished 29th out of 75 golfers at Delaware’s Hornet Classic. (Adeline Horan/B&W Staff)

Zaia eventually decided she could have more fun playing the sport she loved at another school. Since she had initially talked to Lehigh golf coach Mary Kate Lynch when applying to college, it was still a top school on her radar.

“The day I entered the transfer portal, which was April 29 of this year, I picked up the phone, and I called coach (Lynch). I said, ‘Hey, I’m transferring. Do you have room on your team?’ And she said yes. I was so excited,” Zaia said. 

Lynch said she was glad to hear from Zaia, whom she had been impressed with since their initial discussions before college. If it wasn’t the absolute right person, meaning Zaia, Lynch said she doesn’t think it would have worked out as well as it has.

Since coming to Lehigh, Zaia said she has already noticed a difference in the team dynamic compared to the UNC, and Lynch said Zaia’s addition to the team is a factor in that. 

In terms of coaching, Zaia said she appreciates having a coach who attends tournaments and is supportive and loving rather than solely critical. 

She said the amount of love she has felt in the past four weeks is more than she has felt in the past three years.

Because Zaia is a senior in her first year at Lehigh, she said she finds her role on the team “hilarious.” 

“I’m a senior, I’m approaching the finish line, but I feel like I’m back as a (first-year), excited about all these new things that are in front of me,” Zaia said. “And wow, there’s so many things to do that are different than my old school.” 

While Zaia sees herself somewhat as a first-year, her new teammates already see her as a leader. Sophomore Yuki Zhu said Zaia has taken on the role of a big sister since the team didn’t have any seniors before.

“It just definitely balanced the team a little, especially because we now have three (first-years),” Zhu said. 

Zhu added that Zaia is overall an amazing person and teammate, and Lynch agrees.

“She’s so outgoing, she makes everyone around her feel like the most important person, and can bring anyone out of their shell,” Lynch said. “It’s just been truly a breath of fresh air for the entire team to have someone with such a great perspective on things.”

Zaia said that because of the transfer, she has to take at least an extra semester at Lehigh, so she is considering playing next fall season. After that extra semester, she said she has been discussing the option of remaining at Lehigh as a graduate assistant coach to the women’s golf team.  

Having had her eye on Lehigh since high school, she feels everything is coming full circle, which makes her grateful to have decided to call Lynch that one day.

“I (feel) a lot better, like a weight was lifted off my shoulders,” Zaia said. “I really think there’s a lot of full-circle moments happening right now.”

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