In our case, our eldest child Arizza already showed mental spark at three years old when she surprised our visitors from Zamboanga one day by reciting the contents of the children’s book “101 Dalmatians” from from memory from cover to cover! Arizza went on to graduate valedictorian in elementary school; with high honors at the Philippine Science High School (Pisay); and bagged a University of the Philippines Oblation scholarship by landing Top 7 among 60,000 examinees at the UP entrance exams or UPCAT.
As for Ashia, she gave us a shock by not yet being able to speak at age 3! How I recall myself storming Heavens with prayers for Ashia to speak. I even asked all the Saints for forgiveness, thinking that my past indiscretion with women and other similar sins were catching up with me. Thinking I was getting “karmic justice”, I promised God to stop my womanizing ways!
Ashia eventually got to speak after we got a UP speech therapist to help her. It turned our she was "confused by the mini-United Nations" in the house, that is what we refer to the practice of us in the family to speak English and Pilipino among ourselves; and Chavacano, Muslim and Visayan to relatives, the house-help and driver. Poor Ashia did not know what language to follow.
However, amid her speech problem, she did excel in something at age 2 and that is to play with her plastic putter and golf balls. Indeed one of her first words was “dolp.” We started noticing her love for dolp – rather golf – when we saw her hitting her baby balls with rulers, sticks, old long mobile phones or any elongated objects she could find.
It was also around this time when I brought Arizza to the driving range for her to learn to play golf. But Arizza, who was seven years old then, never learned to love the game. She was then – as now – more into reading.
But what Arizza rejected, Ashia picked up and so from age three to five, she started going with me to the driving range and putting greens to play golf. She loved the game so much that she cried buckets when she sees me in short and going out to play in the fairways and I can’t take her along. She cries too when I arrive home from playing golf and she would begrudge me for not bringing her along.
At age five, we learned about the Junior Golf Foundation of the Philippines (JGFP) which was helping develop the talent of young golfers. We got her to participate in the organization’s regular tournaments at Riviera Golf Executive Course in Silang, Cavite. In the tee-off during her first tournament and in front of so many people – some of them my friends or people who knew me as an investigative reporter of the Philippine Daily Inquirer – Ashia missed hitting her ball.
Instead of clapping of hands following the good shots of experienced junior golfers, there was silence followed by muffled laughter and snickers from some of the kids and people in the audience. I thought I would melt in the noonday sun in shame. But Ashia held her ground a played on.
And at age 6, she qualified to be one of the Philippine representatives to the world famous Callaway Jr World Golf Championship. Founded in 1968, the tournament brings together junior golfers from 7 countries all over the world. It is in this tournament where the careers of golfing greats Phil Mickelson, Amy Alcott, and Tiger Woods were launched.
Again, in spite of my fatal mistake to serve as her caddy during the game – instead of hiring a competent one from the US as other players did – and again infecting her with the wrong way of playing golf, Ashia managed to land Top 5 over several players from the US, Japan, China, Malaysia and many other countries.
Best of all, she made a name for being one of the two Philippine players to make a hole-in-one at the Colina Golf Park Course in San Diego, California. She hit a three-wood to bring the ball straight into the hole of the 125-yard green.
About a month later on March 9, 2008, Ashia made her third hole-in-one in yet another tournament Riviera’s Hole No. 4 during the Champions for the Future golf tournament. It was then that friends started calling her the “Muslim Ace”, a title she was proud of as the country’s only Muslim junior golfer who plays in national and international tournaments.
In April 2009, Ashia made made her fourth hole-in-one with the use of a pitching wedge to drive the ball straight into the 7th hole of The Legends course at Southwoods Golf and Country Clube, 70 yards from the tee off area which was adjusted for junior golf players participating in the three-day first leg of the Callaway Callaway Junior World Golf Tournament. In the same tournament, Ashia also got the slot to again represent RP in the US Callaway world tournament.
Ashia’s 4th ace was witnessed by fellow jungolfers and siblings Luigi, Enzo and Annika Castro. She was then being trained by golf coach Juanito Pagunsan, father of the former junior golfer and now one of Asia’s respected golfer Juvic Pagunsan.
Hitting a hole in one-in-one is so hard that the odds against is 1 in 45,000 and few people can actually do it.
We recall all these as we see Ashia again playing and winning ICTSI-BCC Junior Open Championship in Baguio where she battled Koreans who were more familiar with the challenging green of the Baguio Country Club golf course in her first time to play there.
This is the bitter-sweet tale of our little girl who learned to play “dolp” in diapers and before she learned to talk. Indeed, with our kids, we really just have to work hard at helping them discover their talents and skills and not make them follow one another or expect them to be what their siblings are. In our case, we already saw early on how Arizza's academic achievements will somehow make make Ashia insecure so we also worked hard to help Ashia excel in her own talent.
Now, Ashia and Arizza support each others' careers and are each others' big fans!
We can't wait to see what kind of talent God has give our 10-month old baby Arno. Just in case, we already bought a P105.00 golf plastic golf set for him.