July 22, 2020

While Disappointed by Abbreviated Senior Season, PU Women’s Golfer Walton Made Great Memories

FINAL SWING: Maya Walton displays her driving form during her career for the Princeton University women’s golf team. While Walton didn’t get to complete her senior season this spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she graduated as one of the most decorated players in program history. She was Ivy League Player of the Year in 2018 and a three-time All-Ivy performer. Walton helped Princeton to Ivy League titles in her first two seasons and became the third Tiger player to earn an individual bid to the NCAA Women’s Golf Championships, tying for fifth at the Athens Regional in 2017 to advance to the national competition. (Photo by Beverly Schaefer, provided courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

By Bill Alden

Maya Walton was planning to peak when it mattered most in her senior season for the Princeton University women’s golf team.

In the 2019 fall season, Walton tied for second in the William and Mary Invitational and tied for fifth in the Princeton Invitational.

“I didn’t quite play exactly how I wanted,” said Walton, who hails from Austin, Texas.

“It was always trusting the process and trusting practice that eventually by the time Ivies came back around, my game would where I needed it to be.”

As she looked forward to the spring season and competing in the Ivy League Championships, Walton spent the winter honing her game, technically and mentally.

“It was more about consistency for me,” said Walton, who helped Princeton win the Ivy tournament in both 2017 and 2018.

“I did a lot of short game practice. I practiced what I could and then a lot of it was just mental game management and really trying to practice what I could indoors for the spring season. It is always kind of hard coming out of an offseason where you are a feel-based player but you live in New Jersey so you don’t really get to be outside.”

Walton started the spring season by tying for 18th at the Florida Atlantic Winter Warm-Up from February 10-11 in Boca Raton, Fla., and then tying for 59th at the Entrada Classic at St. George, Utah, from March 9-10.

“My score wasn’t what I wanted it to be but I felt like I was almost back; it was that feeling where I wasn’t worried at all because I had so much trust and confidence and it felt like I was going to get my score there eventually,” said Walton, the Ivy League Player of the Year in 2018 and a three-time All-Ivy performer, reflecting on the Utah event.

“I played my last round and most of my family was able to be there, which was really nice. My dad, my grandparents, who had never seen me play a college tournament before, and my mom were there.”

Two days later, Walton and her teammates learned the shocking news that the rest of the spring season was being canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic and that Princeton students were being sent home to complete the school year virtually.

“I found out on Twitter, which was absolutely heartbreaking,” recalled Walton.

“The Ivy League tweeted it before the coaches could tell us. I have never felt like that before, just completely in shock. I got to my coach’s (Erika DeSanty) office as quickly as I could. I don’t really remember the rest of the day. It was a ton of shock, heartbreak, and crying. For me, it meant my golf career was over.”

Along with her fellow seniors, Annie Kong and Allison Chang, Walton tried to make the best of her final moments on campus.

“We all got to play the Utah event together,” said Walton, who served as team co-captain with Chang.

“Outside of our home tournament, I think we have only played one or two events together. So for all of us to be at that event was the one nice thing that came out of this. Our entire team was together after that announcement. We spent the last few days on campus together. Collectively there was so much heartbreak but also so much gratefulness and gratitude for the amazing three and three-quarter years we were able to have.”

Over the last quarter of the year, Walton adjusted to finishing her college career virtually.

“The whole Zoom University experience was definitely so different than what I was used to,” said Walton, an Academic All-Ivy honoree and history major whose senior thesis involved an analysis of how women’s golf fashion has related to women’s roles in history.

“Princeton really prides itself on an in-person environment, especially in the relationships with professors and your peers. It was definitely a learning curve to be able to try to produce that same type of
environment online. I will say that I think it will be very helpful in terms of career things and jobs moving forward, having that experience with Zoom.”

Capping her Princeton athletic career, Walton was nominated as a finalist for the C. Otto von Kienbusch Award, given annually to Princeton’s top senior female athlete.

“The first day of sophomore season, I had an individual meeting with coach and she asked me what my goal was for the year and I said my goal is to be player of the year,” said Walton, who qualified individually for the NCAA Women’s Golf Championships in 2017 to culminated her first college season, becoming the third Tiger and the first Princeton freshman to play in the NCAA finals, joining Mary Moan ’97 in 1997 and Kelly Shon ’14 in 2013.

“Then after I achieved that sophomore year, she said ‘OK, what is next?’ and I said I want to be woman athlete of the year. I always knew that there was tough competition for that. It was really special finding out that I had received that nomination. Women’s golf doesn’t get a lot of attention and so I was really happy to be able to represent the program for that award.”

For Walton, being part of the Tiger golf program was a pleasure on a daily basis.

“The greatest athletic moment I have ever witnessed was being in that playoff against Harvard and absolutely crushing them,” said Walton, referring to the 2018 Ivy championship tournament which saw the Tigers tie Harvard after 54 holes and then prevail on a playoff hole when Walton and three teammates combined for a 2-under score while the Crimson came in at 4-over.

“Not even those moments are most memorable but just the everyday moments you get with your teammates. It is those moments, especially now living through this pandemic that all of us take for granted, but those were truly the greatest times. Just to be able to be together and be in our team locker facility together, just hanging out. That is what I am going to really miss moving forward but that Harvard playoff was definitely something special.”

Emerging as a team leader exemplified Walton’s growth as a person over her college career.

“I didn’t really play on a team in high school and with golf being so individual to begin with, I definitely wasn’t used to a team mindset and that is something that Coach DeSanty and I worked really hard on,” said Walton, who is starting a job this month as a marketing analyst for Dell Technologies.

“Over the four years, she has been the single most influential person of my entire Princeton experience. I can’t express how thankful I am for her coaching. Working on leadership skills, confidence skills, learning to be team oriented and putting other people first has really helped develop me into the person that I am today, both on and off the course. I think everything I have learned through being on the team and through being under coach will definitely transfer into the real world and working.”

Although Walton’s competitive golf career may be over, the positive memories of her time with the Princeton team will likely pull her back to the game.

“I think I will continue to play; at first I wasn’t quite sure about it because I am used to golf at such a perfectionist level,” said Walton.

“I miss it so much. I love competitive golf and part of me will always have that kind of fire but I am very excited for my first round of casual golf. I am in debt to Princeton athletics and Coach DeSanty. Princeton women’s golf has been the best experience of my life.”