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Anna Rawson’s professional golf career prepared her well for a transition to the business world. She networked on the fairways with corporate leaders and picked their brains. Todd Korol/Reuters
Anna Rawson’s professional golf career prepared her well for a transition to the business world. She networked on the fairways with corporate leaders and picked their brains. Todd Korol/Reuters

Students

Why a pro golfer chose to get an MBA Add to ...

Anna Rawson is a sun-kissed Australian model who stands nearly six feet tall. She’s also a professional golfer who played for several years on high-level circuits such as the Ladies European Tour (LET) and the U.S.-based LPGA Tour. And now, she’s nearly completed her first year of an MBA program at Columbia University, an Ivy League school in New York.

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How has she managed to do it all?

“Oh, I’m really nerdy,” she explains, with an Australian accent firmly intact, despite spending most of her adult life in the United States.

The better question may be: Why is she doing it all? Most people who model and play golf professionally would be content with that lifestyle, but not Ms. Rawson. She sees herself combining her past life with her keen interest in business, and feels Columbia will help her do that.

New York didn’t overwhelm her when it came time to choosing an MBA program – she had been to the city many times for modelling shoots, and her husband’s family is from there – but she had never seen snow in any major city before this school year.

“I knew what I was getting myself into, except for the worst winter in 100 years,” she says, laughing.

Her journey to Manhattan from Down Under began in Adelaide, South Australia.

She grew up there as part of a family that belonged to a country club that was “literally right down the street.” Once she turned 13, she took up golf.

She admits she wasn’t very skilled at first, even though she was good at most other sports. But because she had a crush on her older brother’s friends who played, she says with a teenaged giddiness, she stuck with it.

After meeting a handful of other young girls who played through a training camp, she ended up flying around the country at 14 and 15 competing in various tournaments and enjoying it.

At the same time, Ms. Rawson was a finalist in the Dolly magazine cover contest in Australia and began her modelling career.

When it came time to choose a university, Ms. Rawson leaned on some other people who were going to the United States on scholarships. “I had visited America a few times and was always fascinated with their culture and the American Dream and becoming somebody,” she explains.

Ms. Rawson had her choice of top U.S. schools, but settled on the University of Southern California (USC) because of the weather. “It was a very naive college-selection process. When you get offers from schools like Yale and Harvard I was like, ‘No way, it snows there.’”

The selection of USC was the right one, according to Ms. Rawson. She led the team to the national championship in 2003 during her third year and she finished 11th individually in that tournament. She never thought she would turn professional, though, saying she liked studying and always thought she would end up in “Corporate America.”

“[But] a lot of people convinced me that it could be really fun and I would look back with regret if I didn’t do it [turn professional],” she says.

Ms. Rawson played fairly well on the LET and lower-level U.S. Futures Tour (now the Symetra Tour), earning a smattering of top-10 finishes. She qualified for the top-level LPGA Tour for the first time in 2007 by finishing in the top 20 at its qualifying school.

Although she displayed flashes of brilliance, she never produced strong results on the LPGA Tour, making just 14 cuts in the 46 tournaments she played in three seasons.

Her performance on the golf course aside, Ms. Rawson continued to model and raise her profile off the course. She never wanted to give up either career to focus on the other.

“You start thinking about marketing and thinking about a business and building up yourself as a business [and] you realize they went really well together. I could be a model, and playing golf just added so much to my business and brand.”

She also met several chief executive officers through corporate outings with Fortune 500 companies and became fascinated in what they were doing. She wanted to go down that path.

It was a path that led her to Columbia, and an MBA program ranked in the top five in the United States by the Financial Times.

Ms. Rawson admits that students who are concentrating in finance have a hard time believing the kinds of people – from portfolio managers to CEOs – with whom she’s played golf. “They’re shocked at the access that I got.”

That access allowed her to pick the brains of some of the most successful people in U.S. business, helping her in and out of the classroom. Ms. Rawson says that she is going to try to embark down an entrepreneurship path in the clothing industry, particularly active wear.

She also continues to model for various magazines and products – she was in a multipage spread in the February issue of Golf Digest – and says she may even try to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Open, a major tournament on the LPGA Tour, this summer. “It’s crazy, but it’s fun.”

That could, so far, sum up the life of Anna Rawson – model, professional golfer, entrepreneur and MBA hopeful – just fine.

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