For Fabiola Arriaga, learning golf was a family affair. At the urging of her father, himself a recreational golfer, nine-year-old Fabiola picked up her clubs and approached the tees. Her twin brother, Alfonso, also played.
Then, just two weeks after introducing his youngest daughter to the sport, Fabiola’s father entered her in a tournament.
She came up short.
“It was awful,” she remembers. “I was just so scared. But afterwards, I was like, ‘I need to get better.’ This other coach came and taught me a lot, and I just kept playing and playing.”
The practice paid off.
Fabiola, a senior communication major, grew up in Torreon, Mexico, where she played on the Mexican national team for two seasons beginning in 2009. She captured the Naccional Queretaro individual title and helped the national team place sixth at the 2009 Junior Americas Cup. She also finished first at the US Girls’ Qualifier that same year.
Fabiola’s college plans always included golf, but coming to UTSA to play was not her first choice. She had her eye on UT-Austin and the University of Florida, but fate interrupted those plans.
Her former roommate, Paola Valerio, who graduated last year, also played on the Mexican national team with Fabiola. At the time, Paola was committed to UTSA.
UTSA’s women’s golf coach, Carrie Parnaby, was on hand to watch Paola play in a tournament when she heard of Fabiola’s successes on the links.
“When she found out I was graduating early, she offered me a scholarship to come here,” Fabiola recalls. “I thought it sounded pretty good, and since Paola was going to be here, I said yes.”
Another member of her “extended” family provided additional encouragement. Tom Relf, director of golf at Briggs Ranch Golf Club in San Antonio, was also Fabiola’s coach on the Mexican national team.
“He told me, ‘Go to UTSA. It’s growing so much, you can be part of their history,’” she said. “So I came early and I like it, it’s been fun.”
After arriving in San Antonio, Fabiola’s only connection to her home country was her teammate Paola, so the first obstacle she had to overcome was the lack of family.
“The hardest part was being by myself. I had to learn to take care of things like laundry, cooking – everything,” she said. “But I like that, it made me more independent.”
Though adjusting to campus life posed its challenges, Fabiola’s transition to the golf course was anything but rough.
In her freshman year, Fabiola became only the second freshman in UTSA’s program history to be named to the conference’s first team. She was also named the Southland Freshman of the Year, ranking second on the team with a 76.25 stroke average.
Life on campus is anything but kicking back and relaxing for Fabiola. Aside from maintaining good grades, she commits herself to practice as much as possible.
That practice ethic has led to additional accolades. In her sophomore year, she was named the Southland Conference’s Player of the Year, and during her junior year she became the first person in UTSA’s program history to be named to the conference’s top squad for three consecutive years. Under Coach Parnaby’s tutelage, Fabiola has lowered her stroke average each year. As of fall 2013, that average stands at 73.55.
Now that she is nearing graduation, Fabiola looks back at the family that her team has become.
“We’re a fun team. I’m the one who cannot stop talking, and we like to joke around and make bets.”
“Well, we call them challenges. Like, ‘If you shoot under-par, I’ll wear this, or I’ll do that.’”
The craziest challenge?
“One time I smacked a cake on my coach’s face,” she recalls, laughing. “I told her, ‘If I shoot under-par two days in a row, I get to smash a cake in your face.’ So she knew it was coming.”
Talk turns a little more serious when it comes to discussions about her future. As for her golf plans following college, Fabiola is still undecided.
“I’m not giving up golf, but I want to try new things. I’ve been playing golf since I was nine, and when you turn pro, you’re there 24/7.”
Fabiola may be undecided, but it is a sure bet her family wants her to turn pro.