I’m a chemical engineer. But right now, I’m an LPGA Tour golfer

I’m a chemical engineer. But right now, I’m an LPGA Tour golfer

'Golf is based upon the principles of physics and there is certainly a chemistry/materials science aspect in play'

By Brittany Marchand for CBC Sports
May 15, 2019

My first year on the LPGA Tour was 2018.

I made cuts and ultimately earned my full status card for this 2019 season. This was my goal, to be on the Tour, and achieving it felt amazing, but there were some bumps along the way. My first two seasons were on the Symetra Tour, which is the LPGA’s developmental league, and it took a series of good finishes before I really started to feel like I belonged. During those early years, I took comfort in knowing I had a backup plan: while I was honing my golf game I was also getting my iron ring in chemical engineering.

Marchand, pictured with her mother, graduated from North Carolina State University in 2015 with a chemical engineering degree. (Brittany Marchand/Instagram) Marchand, pictured with her mother, graduated from North Carolina State University in 2015 with a chemical engineering degree. (Brittany Marchand/Instagram)

Completing an engineering degree was always important to me. I have yearbooks from grade one and two in which I described multiple times how my favourite part of school was math class. I loved math, physics, and chemistry in high school, so I figured  I would really enjoy studying engineering. And it was important that I had something which truly interested me if golf didn’t work out. North Carolina State University was one of the only golf programs that allowed me to take such a demanding program alongside my golf commitment.

During university, it was difficult to balance studying and golf practice at first. I was often exhausted from lack of sleep, but I knew I wanted to succeed in both. Completing my degree was so important to me that I spread my major over five years, which allowed me to efficiently manage my time so I could deliver quality work in school and golf. This meant I wasn’t eligible to compete in college golf in my final year, but it was worth it. There was a learning curve. There were ‘C’s on exams because I had tournaments the weekend before, and vice versa, sometimes I didn’t play my best because I was thinking about school. I finished my degree during my fifth year. Thankfully, I could focus on my lab classes and project work in those months when I wasn’t competing in college golf.


Balance between STEM and golf

They may seem like polar opposites, but I found there was an interplay between golf and studying STEM (science, technology, engineering, math). Golf is based upon the principles of physics and there is certainly a chemistry/materials science aspect in play when it comes to the engineering of equipment, clothes, etc. Understanding golf from the very base level, knowing why I was doing certain movements or learning certain techniques, was helpful for my game.

And I also appreciated how school could be an outlet, a way to de-stress from a bad round of golf. I could immerse myself in my engineering work and forget negative thoughts from my golf game. Now as a professional, golf is my priority, but I still love being an ambassador for organizations that promote STEM. The work keeps the engineering part of me alive.

To get involved with STEM during my professional golf career, I decided to team up with ‘Let’s Talk Science’ and ‘Golf in Schools’, to be an ambassador for the programs and a role model for students. I want to show kids, especially young girls, that it is cool to love and study STEM while also being an athlete or pursuing other interests. Initiatives like these, and others like ‘Girls Who Code’, are excellent at breaking the stigma surrounding STEM and girls. I spoke at the Canada 2020 Youth Summit in Calgary about the role and benefits of STEM knowledge for athletes. I hope to continue role modeling for young girls and working with these programs.

STEM is the way of the future.  It makes up such a large part of the job picture already. For kids, there are so many opportunities in STEM related work. I grew up during a period when it wasn’t as common for girls to participate in STEM related courses or jobs. I was one of the few girls that chose physics in high school, and one of only two girls to be in the math club. I want to spread the message that it’s cool to love science and math, and it’s not just for boys.


Options open

STEM degrees certainly involve hard equations or complicated coding, but they mostly teach problem solving. There is nothing more important in any industry, which is why people with engineering or other STEM degrees are so desirable to employers. A lot of CEOs started as engineers. Ultimately, they know the ins and outs of their companies, how to solve problems and delegate tasks. All important skills, all taught in STEM degrees.
When I was becoming a professional golfer, I thought having a chemical engineering major was going to reduce the stress of playing for a living, but I found it was almost the opposite. When times were tough in my first two years as a pro, it was more tempting to quit because I knew my other option was less stressful, and had more earning potential (especially while I was playing the Symetra Tour). I am well past that now. Golf is my passion and I want to give it my all to see if I can be successful at it. Maybe one day down the road, I will use my degree in a post-golf career. I am glad I have the option. Right now, I’m happy I’m taking the golf route and seeing where it will take me.

(Top large photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images; middle large photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images; bottom large photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)


The Brittany Marchand edition

Q: The best book you've ever read? 
A: I don't think I can choose one book but a few of my favourites are: an old one, 'My Sister's Keeper' by Jodi Picoult; a motivational book, 'The Power of More' by Marnie McBean; and I love psychological thrillers, one of my favourites was 'Gone Girl.'

Q: Must-listen podcast? 
A: I love true crime podcasts, and 'Serial' ( season 1) is my favourite.

Q: Best advice you ever received? 
A: There’s no one way to reach a goal, everyone takes their own path, and just because your path looks different than someone else’s, doesn’t mean you won’t end up in the same spot in the end, so be patient and embrace the journey.

Q: What word or phrase do you over use? 
A: Like and obviously.

Q: What is a skill you wish you had? 
A: Being bilingual.

Q: What's something no one would guess about you? 
A: Most people can’t guess my background. My mom's side of the family is South African, my dad's side is French-Canadian from Nova Scotia (so Acadian French).

Q: What scares you? 
A: Spiders and bugs.

Q: If you could have the ultimate influential dinner party, who are the 6 people you'd invite?
A: Tiger Woods, Annika Sorenstam, Oprah, Nelson Mandela, Nikola Tesla, J.K. Rowling.

Q: What makes you cry, every time? 
A: Sad/sappy movies.

Q: What's the next goal you want to accomplish?
A: Win an LPGA event.

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