Reyes Hopes Fifth Time is the Charm in Girls’ Junior July 19, 2018 | Pebble Beach, Calif. By Tom Mackin

Stanford-bound Calista Reyes is one of the most experienced competitors in this week's championship at Poppy Hills. (USGA/JD Cuban)

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Before Calista Reyes joins the highly successful Stanford University women’s golf team in September, she’s trying to cap off an impressive junior golf career in style.

One of four players –  all from California – participating in their fifth U.S. Girls’ Junior this week at Poppy Hills Golf Course, the 18-year-old San Diegan hopes to improve upon her quarterfinal finish in last year’s championship at Boone Valley Golf Club in Augusta, Mo.

Reyes, 18, shot 5-over-par 147 to advance to the Round of 64, where she will face Rachel Kuehn, of Asheville, N.C., on Thursday. Reyes birdied three of the 11 holes she played in Tuesday’s second round before play was suspended due to darkness. Fog then further delayed the resumption of play on Wednesday morning for almost three hours.

“I was not expecting that long of a delay, but I think it actually worked in my favor because I worked out a few kinks in my game and then get a good amount of rest,” said Reyes, who qualified for the 2017 U.S. Women’s Amateur at San Diego Country Club in Chula Vista, but did not advance to match play. “I just stayed patient knowing I would have to come back Wednesday morning. I was happy with how I ended up.”

Playing a course she thoroughly enjoys has certainly helped her performance.

“Poppy Hills is all about picking your landing areas,” she said. “I really like being able to play golf that way. It’s not about attacking every pin, but more positioning yourself well. The greens are rolling pretty true and fast, which I like, too. The course just keeps getting better.”   

Reyes was born in the Philippines and moved to San Diego with her mother, Cheryl, when she was 5 years old. Her father, Arnold, stayed behind in Manila for two more years due to work obligations before joining the family in the Rancho Bernardo area.

While that temporary separation was difficult, her parents’ move to the U.S. was spurred by a desire to provide their only child with more opportunities than those available in their native country.

“We remind her all the time to have no expectations when it comes to golf, just go one shot at a time, one day at time” said Cheryl. “Her goal this time was to make it to match play again. And she did that.”

Reyes started playing golf through The First Tee of San Diego when she was 7 years old. “She enjoys competition so we didn’t have to force her to play,” said Cheryl. “She likes practicing and focusing on the process.”

Part of that process included a school that Reyes says she began dreaming about in fifth grade.

“I always wanted to attend Stanford,” she said. “It’s in a great location with a great golf coach (Anne Walker). She’s had a lot of winning teams and has a great attitude about the game. She also improves a lot of players’ games. Combining the education I’ll get (Reyes graduated from Rancho Bernardo High School with a 4.27 GPA) with the golf program, there’s nothing like it.”

That admiration made the recruiting pitch simple for Walker, Stanford’s head coach since 2012.

“She’s got a lot of heart and is a real fighter on the golf course,” said Walker. “We watched her play a couple of tough rounds at a tournament and she played the last few holes with as much heart and guts as she did the first few. That stuck out to us. We feel she’s a great player. When you have that much fight, usually you’re a good team player, and, long term, you’re going to be a good contributor.”

Walker, who has guided the Cardinal to five consecutive NCAA Championships berths, including the school’s first NCAA women’s title in 2015, appreciates the rarity of those traits.

“Players like that are not always easy to come by, so it’s fun to see one like that,” said Walker. “The other thing with Calista is she does it all with a smile on her face. I’ve never seen that kid come off the course and not have a big, beaming smile. So, she gets it.”

That smile may be at its brightest if she can win the U.S. Girls’ Junior in her fifth attempt.

“That would mean the world to me,” said Reyes. “This is one of the biggest events we all prepare for every year. Looking at the names on the trophy (named after Glenna Collett Vare, winner of a record six U.S. Women’s Amateur Championships between 1922 and 1935), those are all great players. I hope I’m able to raise that trophy at the end of the week.”

Arizona resident Tom Mackin is a frequent contributor to USGA websites. Email him at temackinjr@gmail.com.