A unicorn historically has been thought of as a rare mythical beast with a single large, pointed, spiraling horn projecting from its forehead. In modern Silicon Valley parlance, a unicorn is a new company that achieves a valuation of a billion dollars or more.
Women’s college golf has a unicorn: Auburn’s Ami Gianchandani. Her golf journey is as fascinating as it is unprecedented.
Gianchandani (pronounced Ah-ME Gan-chan-DON-ee) grew up in Watchung, New Jersey, started playing golf at age 5, and had a solid junior career. She dominated the New Jersey junior landscape while making the AJGA Scholastic All-America team honor roll. She enrolled at Yale University “because of the balance of academics and golf,” she said in a university publication.
“I’ve always loved learning and did not want to have to sacrifice part of my academic experience to play golf at a school that doesn’t embody the definition of a student-athlete as much as Yale does.”
As a freshman at Yale, Gianchandani swept the Ivy League’s player of the year and rookie of the year honors. Her sophomore season was solid, but not quite up to her first-year standards. As a junior, she once again won the Ivy’s POY. In the following summer, she missed the cut at the U.S. Women’s Open at Pine Needles by one stroke.
Gianchandani finished her fourth year at Yale with a solid season and earned the 2023 Dinah Shore Trophy award, which recognizes student-athletes who excel in the classroom as well as showing leadership within their sport. She also received the Nellie Pratt Elliot Award, given to a senior women’s sport student-athlete whose success in and out of athletics best embodies sportsmanship and the Yale tradition.
In four years, she recorded nine wins while majoring in statistics and data science. Student-athletes don’t take online courses at Yale, and they are expected to excel academically and to graduate in four years.
Unless, of course, a pandemic hits, which is what happened in March 2020 during her sophomore year. The Ivy League immediately canceled sports for the rest of the year. Gianchandani opted to take a “gap” year; she worked remotely as a software engineer, and during the fall of 2020, she came up with a big idea.
Gianchandani loves golf and statistics. She had never kept her own stats in high school, but she was expected to do so at Yale. The program she used was, as she described it, “a pain.” It took a half hour to load all of the data after each round. Surely, she thought, there must be a better way. So, in the fall of 2020, she began to contemplate an app that was easier to use.
“I initially wanted to create [an app] because I was frustrated with a lot of the other golf stats apps out there for two reasons: because it took forever to enter the stats after the round and because the analytics that it gave back to the players were hard to understand and hard to learn from,” Gianchandani, a graduate student, told AuburnTigers.com. “I wanted to make a better product and thought that I would be able to personally use it. And then it grew from there into something that I wanted to introduce for more players and teams to use.”
She reached out to a high school friend, Alex Strasser, whom Gianchandani described as non-golfer but a “brilliant software developer.” Together, they logged hundreds of hours designing an app; they formed Accel Golf, with Gianchandani serving as the CEO. By June 2021, they had a beta version. Two months later, they were ready to go to market.
“Ever since I took up golf, my parents stressed the importance of balance in life: academics, family, friends, golf. At Auburn, for the first time in my life, that balance was gone. It was so much more weighted on golf. But that’s what I want and need.” — Ami Gianchandani
The app is so highly regarded that it recently was selected for collaboration with the United States Golf Association as a non-exclusive game-improvement app provider for the U.S. National Development Program.
During the app creation, Gianchandani began considering life after Yale. She wanted to become a professional golfer, but she knew she was not good enough at that moment. An extra year of eligibility due to COVID provided the pathway. She could graduate from Yale and find a college program that would help her develop her game. After a visit to Auburn, she committed two weeks later to play on the Plains for coach Melissa Luellen. Gianchandani enrolled at Auburn as a graduate student last fall, pursuing a certificate in business analytics while playing on the women’s golf team.
Auburn women’s golf and the Southeastern Conference offer a step up in competition from Yale and the Ivy League. The Tigers are ranked inside the top 20 after the fall season. They have Anna Davis, who at No. 5 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking is the top American, joining the team this month and also feature Megan Schofill, the reigning U.S. Women’s Amateur champion, as they take aim at national-title contention.
Despite being only 287th in the WAGR, Gianchandani went to the Plains hoping to break into the starting five and contribute. She knew she would have to fight for it, as the Yale-to-Auburn journey is a bit like going from Double-A baseball to the starting lineup at Yankee Stadium.
It didn’t take long for Gianchandani to prove to herself and Luellen that she could contribute. After an 8-under 64 in her first round with the Tigers and an eventual T-12 finish at the Mason Rudolph Championship, Gianchandani played in all four fall events, with three finishes in the top 30, as she adjusted to Southern golf courses and grasses.
Luellen was not surprised. She characterizes Gianchandani as a “hard worker who knows what she wants.” She has plenty of length to compete at this level, Luellen said, and that her strength is her brain. “She is an aggressive player but makes good shot assessments leading to solid on-course decision-making.”
Asked what the hardest part of the transition from Yale to Auburn was, Gianchandani singled out “balance.”
“Ever since I took up golf, my parents stressed the importance of balance in life: academics, family, friends, golf,” she said. “At Auburn, for the first time in my life, that balance was gone. It was so much more weighted on golf. But that’s what I want and need.”
Gianchandani expects to turn professional after the spring season. She thinks she has what it takes to compete on the LPGA Tour, and she is prepared to invest the time and effort to get there. Should she make it, she would be just the fourth Ivy League player to do so.
There you have it. Ivy League standout, graduate school competitor, LPGA aspirant, corporate CEO. Unicorn stuff.
Gianchandani may well be the most interesting woman in the global game today. Clearly, hers is a name to remember in golf. It remains to be seen whether she will make her mark on the course, off the course, or both.
© 2024 Global Golf Post LLC
Top: Ami Gianchandani transferred to Auburn after graduating from Yale. Jamie Holt, Auburn Tigers
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