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Honoring the Life and Legacy of Celia Barquin Arozamena

The following is an excerpt from Golden Harvest: Iowa’s Rich Golf History

Celia Barquin Arozamena was warming up for the final round of the 2018 Big 12 Conference women’s golf championship with a smile on her face. The late-April wind was blowing at better than 20 miles per hour at the Dallas Athletic Club. Celia was so excited that she got out her phone and texted her mom, MaA’ngeles Arozamena, back in Puente San Miguel, Spain.

“Mom,” she said. “It’s really windy. I’ve got this.”

Celia didn’t hit a long ball, but she was a low-ball hitter who loved playing in the wind.

“Her wind game was phenomenal,” Iowa State Coach Christie Martens said. “When she started a round and it was windy, she was so excited. She would always say, ‘Everyone else has already quit, guys, this is our day. Cyclonitas Day.’”

Celia started the final round two back, but fired a three-under 69 to win the elite championship by three shots. Martens, who has built a perennial NCAA program in Ames, always plays a strong schedule. So winning individual titles takes some doing. The Big 12 title was the first tournament victory of Arozamena’s career. Iowa State hadn’t had an individual women’s conference champion since Shelley Finnestad, who won the 1993 Big Eight Championship.

Mike Green, Iowa State’s director of athletic communications, was following Arozamena’s progress on line during that final round in Dallas.

“I remember sitting there thinking, ‘Holy cow, she’s going to win this thing,’” he said. “Everyone knew she was good enough to do it. But you’ve still got to do it.”

Green has interviewed countless Iowa State athletes over the years. The most enjoyable conversation of his career came when he talked to Celia right after her Big 12 triumph.

“She was ecstatic,” Green recalled. “That was like her ultimate goal. And she got it. She wanted to win a tournament so bad. Not for herself, but for Iowa State. This is what was so special about her.”

Five months later, it was Martens who had to phone Celia’s parents back in Spain with unspeakable news. Their daughter had been murdered while playing a round of golf at Coldwater Golf Links in Ames, a senseless tragedy that brought a tidal wave of heartfelt and international support reaching as far as the Ryder Cup in France.

“It was really, really hard,” Martens said. “I recruited her in Spain. Everyone told her if you want to play college golf you had to go to the south. I met her and her mom when I watched her play in a tournament in France, and we just got along great. Her mom said, ‘I trust you, I want my daughter to go to Iowa State.’ It was very hard, but I guess the thing that meant the most to me is that she said Cel was happy every day that she was there. And even though this has happened, if we had to decide all over again we’d still send her to Iowa State.’ That meant a lot.”

Her Iowa State career ended at the NCAA Regionals, but Celia was just getting started. She qualified for the 2018 U.S. Women’s Open in dramatic fashion. Playing a 36-hole qualifier in Stillwater, Minn., Celia appeared to shoot herself out of contention with an opening 78. She was so far back that Green didn’t bother to follow her progress in the second round. He had no clue what was going on until Iowa State assistant coach Sarah Butler texted him and said, “I think she has a chance to make it.”

Arozamena shot a second-round 66, including a back-nine 31, that got her in a two-player playoff for the final spot. After getting outdriven by 80 yards on the first extra hole, Celia hit a hybrid within inches of the cup and tapped in the winning birdie putt. Celia texted her close friend, M.J. Kamin. The message read, “I’m in.” It included a smiley face. She shot 76-75 in the Open at Shoal Creek and missed the cut by three shots, but the experience was invaluable.

Just the second Cyclone player to be named to the All-Big 12 first team on three occasions, the civil engineering major won the European Ladies Amateur Championship in Slovakia at the end of July. Celia finished at 16-under 272, which included a course-record 63 in the third round. Then she got past the first stage of qualifying for the LPGA Tour, and was preparing for the second stage in October when she lost her life. “I firmly believe she was going to get on the LPGA Tour,” Green said.

Iowa State was playing in a tournament in Ann Arbor, Mich., and had the lead heading into the final round on Sept. 17, 2018. The last text Martens received from Celia, sent the morning of her death, included a screen shot of the standings along with these words: “Nice to see my Cyclonitas on top. Keep it up girls.” The Cyclones withdrew from the tournament after learning of Arozamena’s death, and the university sent a plane to fly them back to Ames to deal with the tragedy. The following day, ESPN, CBS, NBC and ABC all had reporters in Ames for what had became a national story. Martens spoke at an emotionally-charged news conference on September 18.

“I couldn’t have done what she did,” Green said. Martens talked about Celia’s competitive spirit, and about her love for Iowa State and her native country. “She was such a competitive person,” Martens said. “If she put her mind to something she was always going to accomplish it. The spotlight was on her because of her golf. But what makes it so hard and so special is who she was as a person and how much she meant to me personally, and to our program and everyone at Iowa State.”

Celia was to be honored as Iowa State’s female athlete of the year at halftime of the Cyclones’ football game on Sept. 22 at Jack Trice Stadium.

“When we told her she was going to be honored for being athlete of the year, she just started crying,” Martens said. “She said, ‘This is such an honor. I can’t believe I’m going to be on the field’.”

Fans wore yellow, her favorite color, to honor her. Yellow t-shirts were sold with proceeds going to a memorial fund in her name. Both Iowa State and Akron players wore CBA decals on their helmets. Iowa State’s band formed her initials during a halftime routine. Men’s and women’s professional golf tours and college tournaments honored Celia. A moment of silence was held in Puente San Miguel the day after her death. A campus vigil was held in Ames. Celia’s favorite professional golfer, Sergio Garcia, tweeted his condolences. He had also tweeted congratulations after she had won the Big 12 Championship.

“She loved Spain, and she loved Sergio,” Martens said.

Garcia and his European Ryder Cup teammates wore yellow ribbons in her honor the week of the competition in late September.

“The golfing family extends way beyond what we are trying to do this week,” European captain Thomas Bjorn said. “You know, those events in America with Celia being killed playing golf is something that hit everybody in the golf family, and obviously our two Spanish players (Garcia and Jon Rahm) very much. And we felt that after a conversation from Ryder Cup Europe with Celia’s mother, that we would honor her this week. That’s what we are doing, and it’s nothing about us, but it’s just more about the golfing family being touched by these things all over the world. She was such a great prospect for the game of golf, but also a wonderful person. And when you speak to Sergio and Jon about it, they couldn’t talk highly enough about her.”

American players also wore yellow ribbons during opening ceremonies, and during the week. Zach Johnson, a vice captain on the U.S. team, used three words to describe his feelings about the tragedy.

“I’m so gutted,” he said.

The golfing family Bjorn spoke of is a tight group.

“We were stunned and amazed at the support from everyone,” Green said. “And it was across the board. We were just honored and thrilled to know that people cared about her. And it was fitting, because she was a special person. It was really neat to see people honor her legacy.”

Celia Barquin Arozamena, just 22 years old when she died, left a remarkable legacy in a short time. “She was really at the pinnacle of her career,” Martens said. Celia grew up playing Abra de Pas, a municipal course in her home town of Puente San Miguel. In a fitting tribute, it has been renamed for her.

Next Week on Women’s Wednesday…

Ann Griffel left a lasting legacy both on and off the golf course. The winner of more than a dozen IWGA events, Griffel’s biggest impact has been helping the next generation with the Ann Griffel Scholarship.

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