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Violeta Retamoza: from Aguascalientes to the world

Marvin West

Golf is the magic carpet that lifted Violeta Retamoza from Cerco del Laurel in Aguascalientes and sent her out to see the world.

So far, it has earned her a scholarship at the University of Tennessee and freshman honors in the Southeastern Conference. Most likely it will some day earn her pay.

Violeta was introduced to golf by her dad the summer she was 8. Her first clubs were hand-me-downs, purchased for her brother.

"Carlos didn't like golf so I got the clubs."

Violeta learned to hit the ball in the general direction she was looking, took baby steps toward improvement, gave up the game for awhile and got serious at age 12.

"Then I played almost every day. It must have cost a lot. Golf was fun for me. My parents never said I had to practice."

The Retamozas could spare a few pesos. The father, Carlos Sr., owns a small business with work crews. The mother, Violeta Sr., is an accountant. They have a nice home in a good community in a delightful city.

"I love Aquascalientes," said the younger Violeta.

It is the capital city in the state of the same name, so called because of hot springs. Violeta thinks Aguascalientes is developing into a major industrial city, in part because of its location in the middle of the country. It has business links to Zacatecas, Guadalajara, Guanajuato and San Luis Potosi. She is excited about Jack Nicklaus' interest in the area and the potential for golf growth.

Violeta really likes La Feria de San Marcos, a weeklong spring festival of music, fireworks, art exhibits and bull-fighting. She says it is like a big fair. Temporary gambling halls and cockfights attract an adult audience.

She knows that famous painter Saturnino Herran was born in Aguascalientes. She knows there is a new hospital built by the Scripps Institute. She knows the state has a literacy rate higher than the national average. She knows Cultural Institutes promote participation in dance, music, art and theater.

She knows details about culture, about the Museo José Guadalupe Posada. The brilliant engraver and lithographer was born a bit before her time (1852). His original etching plates are displayed at the museum. Violeta says there is a wonderful mural inside the Palacio de Gobierno. And check out the Deshilado textiles (beautiful stuff).

She didn't know that Cecilio Acosta of Aguascalientes holds the mark for most consecutive wild pitches in a Mexican League baseball game: four in the first innings on June 28, 1979. Oh, well, Violeta II is young.

Violeta II certainly knows golf. She played at Club Campestre de Aguascalientes, then a nine-hole course, now 18. Being something of a celebrity in her hometown, she got to play the new holes before they were officially open.

Golf moved up in Violeta's life when she was 13 and 14. She started playing tournaments.

"I was far from perfect but I improved very fast."

Violeta never really had a coach in those early years. The club changed pros too often for any continuity but the family made a bold move to help. Violeta was allowed to take a year off from school to practice golf.

"We tried to do what you call home study. We bought books and I studied by myself and took tests. But it wasn't like going to school so we didn't count it. When I went back to school, I went to 10th grade where I would have been the year before."

Her golf was very good. She won the South Texas Junior Golf Classic championship in 1999. She was ranked No. 2 among Mexican amateurs. She won the 2000 Junior Mexican National Championship.

At school, she was bored.

"My friends were all gone."

Javier Díaz, a family friend, rose to the rescue. He and his wife Melanie, live in Phoenix. They had a spare bedroom.

"They suggested I come live with them for my last year of high school. They said I could play on the high school team. They said that was the best way to earn a college scholarship."

This move worked wonders.

"The adjustment wasn't easy but it was exciting to be at the Díaz home. They have two little girls. We watched a lot of cartoons together."

Violeta's new friends at Hamilton High were mostly Mexicans who spoke Spanish.

"We could read in English but we didn't speak too well."

Scottsdale pro Kent Chase added refinement to Violeta's golf game. "He helped me so much."

Violeta responded with outstanding play. She shot 62 at the Mesa High Invitational: the lowest score in the history of Arizona women's golf. She won the 2001 Arizona high school championship. She was state player of the year. She played with Lorena Ochoa for Mexico in the World Team Championships. Yes, that was big. Lorena is on the LPGA tour.

"She is a friend," said Violeta. "She's two years older but we've played together a few times."

Javier Díaz proved 100 percent correct in his earlier assumption that moving to Arizona would open other doors. College recruiters recognized Violeta as a special talent. She chose the University of Tennessee over Purdue, Southern Methodist and Florida.

Golf is Violeta's second passport. She has played in Bogotá, Colombia, Aberdeen, Scotland, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Guatemala and Berlin. She won the Texas-Oklahoma junior championship, the Lady Kat Invitational in Lexington, Ky., and the Auburn Tiger Derby. She was top freshman in the Southeastern Conference in 2003.

"Violeta Retamoza has proven that she is a great talent," said Tennessee coach Judi Pavon. "She is a huge asset to our team, and I'm very proud of her success."

Violeta accepts praise graciously.

"I have never thought that much about awards and honors. I just want to play hard and leave knowing that I did my best."

Sophomore Violeta says her first year of college was a pleasant adventure. She really appreciates the instruction and support she received from her coach. She values the friendship of roommates and other teammates, and says a sincere thank you for how much they helped her with English.

"I learned a lot about buffalo wings and chicken fingers, too."

Sometimes she was a little bit homesick.

"I still send my mother an e-mail every day."

In her diary, she sent a blessing to her Mexican family and spoke glowingly of her coach as her American mom and teammates as sisters. She thanked those who made it possible for her to come to the United States to study and play golf. She thanked God for the opportunity to be in this world.

Violeta intends to be a very good college student (business) and a very good amateur golfer. She intends to never lose touch with Mexico. After she earns her degree, she hopes to play professionally. Will it happen? Bet on it.

Published or Updated on: April 1, 2004 by Marvin West © 2004
Contact Marvin West

Marvin West, mostly retired after just 42 years with Scripps Howard newspapers, is senior partner in an international communications consulting company. This column is from his forthcoming book, “Mexico? What you doing in Mexico?”  West invites reader reaction; his address is westwest6@netzero.com.
 

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