UTSA junior golfer Fabiola Arriaga was 9 when her father introduced her to the sport she would develop a passion for while growing up in her hometown of Torreon, Mexico.
A fast learner and highly competitive by nature, Arriaga worked on her game every chance she got and simply relished each opportunity to walk the links.
"I would go play with my father and I would watch him and his friends," Arriaga said Friday. "I went to a tournament just a few weeks after I learned how to play and I didn't do well at all, but then I won my second tournament. I really liked that."
After pausing, Arriaga added in Spanish: "Me gusta ganar."
Translation: "I like to win."
Eleven years later, Arriaga is a standout on the UTSA women's team. She was named player of the year in the Southland Conference as a sophomore and earned SLC freshman of the year honors in 2011.
Arriaga has gotten off to a good start in the Roadrunners' fall season, recording top-five finishes in two of the team's first three tournaments.
Arriaga called 'Fabi' by teammates, coaches
She was on her game at the Golfweek Conference Challenge late last month in Wolcott, Colo., finishing in a tie for second with a score of 212 that tied the UTSA record set by teammate and fellow Mexican Paola Valerio.
After shooting a 75 in the first round, Arriaga had a career-low 68 in the second and carded a 69 on the final day of the tournament. The top-five finish was the eighth of her career.
Called "Fabi" by her teammates and coaches, Arriaga has developed into a steady leader for the Roadrunners.
"Her teammates look up to her because she goes about her business in a real professional way," head coach Carrie Parnaby said. "She's very strong mentally and she has learned to really work on the things she needs to work on, and not get bogged down on other things.
"I've never, never seen anybody who loves competing like her. Watching her play in tournaments is a lot of fun because every shot, she's committed. I'm sure that's why she loves golf, because of the mental challenge. Over the last two and a half years, she's gotten much stronger mentally."
Arriaga attributes her competitiveness to growing up with her twin brother, Alfonso.
"We were always competing for our mother's attention," she said, chuckling. "We'd compete against each other for everything, like what we were going to watch on TV."
UTSA hosting Alamo Invitational on Oct. 28-30
Arriaga opened the fall season with a fifth-place showing at the Dale McNamara Invitational in Broken Arrow, Okla., carding a score of 215. She finished tied for 22nd at the Mercedes-Benz Collegiate Championships in Knoxville, Tenn., Oct. 12-14.
Arriaga will be back on the course when UTSA hosts the Alamo Invitational on Oct. 28-30 at Briggs Ranch Golf Club. She won the tournament last year.
"I like traveling and meeting people," said Arriaga, 20. "Golf is a tough sport, a mental sport, but I like the challenge. I like to compete. That's what keeps me going. You never know when you're going to do well or do badly.
"Your attitude has to be right because it dictates how you play. It's like life. You have to focus. I don't think about anything else when I'm out on the golf course. For four and a half hours, it's solely golf. If you're thinking about anything else, you won't do well."
So how did Arriaga find her way to UTSA?
Parnaby had heard about Arriaga from Valerio, a senior who is from Mexico City, before she saw her play for the first time in a tournament in Huntsville.
"We always look at the Mexican national team to recruit players," Parnaby said. "Being in San Antonio, our university is an easy transition for them because of the culture here. We always try to get the best players out of Mexico. When Paola told me about Fabi, I went and watched her."
Valerio helped Arriaga adjust to college life in America
Parnaby was impressed from the get-go and It didn't take long for Arriaga to commit to UTSA.
"She was great friends with Paola, so it was a real good fit," Parnaby said. "Paola spoke highly of UTSA and Fabi wanted to come here."
Going to college in a foreign country can be a daunting experience, but Valerio helped Arriaga adjust to life as a student-athlete at UTSA.
"I went through a lot and it was tough at first, because everything was new," Arriaga said. "I already knew how to speak English, but the professors talked very fast. It was difficult to understand them sometimes.
"But with time, I adjusted to living away from home. I still miss home and miss my family, but Paola has been like a sister to me. She's really helped me, especially when I was a freshman."
Parnaby said Arriaga's perseverance and positive attitude earned her the respect and admiration of her teammates.
"Leaving Mexico to come to school here, that's a big adjustment," Parnaby said. "Going to a school and studying in a different language is tough, but she works hard. Fabi is very likable and a lot of fun to be around. We love coaching her."
Arriaga looked up to Mexican star Ochoa
Parnaby's husband, assistant coach Ian Parnaby, works with Arriaga on her swing and her short game.
"That's another thing that's improved since she's been here, her putting," Carrie Parnaby said. "She's very coachable."
Parnaby said she thinks Arriaga has a "great shot" of playing in the pro ranks someday.