Iowa State golfer Celia Barquin Arozamena was ready to play through
AMES, Iowa -- The year's second-to-last outing for the Metro Seniors golf group was scheduled for Sept. 17, on a course just outside the morning madness of Iowa State's campus. Summer's grip would loosen soon, giving way to the bitter, unforgiving winds of central Iowa; but on this Monday, the temperature would top 90 degrees. Harley Thornton, a retired fighter pilot, pulled in to Coldwater Golf Links, took in the fair skies and knew it would be a good day for golf. He didn't realize that he had parked right next to her car.
Celia Barquin Arozamena got up early to squeeze in a morning round before school, and when she spotted Coldwater general manager Barrett Randall in the clubhouse, she wrapped him in a hug. Barquin was notorious for her hugs. Rooming with her on road trips at Iowa State was never a good idea if you weren't a morning person. She'd jump on their beds, waking them from their sleep, and dole out hugs.
"Super bubbly," M.J. Kamin, one of her former roommates, said. "Always happy. Always."
Every day was a good day for Barquin. When the weather turned bad and the team was covered in parkas, it was always easy to spot her at Coldwater. She was the one dancing on the tee box.
Barquin had much to smile about last week. She had just booked her flight to attend the second stage of LPGA qualifying school next month in Florida, drawing one step closer to her dream of taking care of her family in Spain. In a few days, Iowa State was going to honor her before the Cyclones' football game for being the school's 2018 female athlete of the year.
Because of her hectic schedule, Randall hadn't seen Barquin much lately, but they quickly launched into smiles and laughter.
"I just told her how proud we are," Randall said, "and how much fun it's been following along with all the success she's been having this summer. I just remember telling her to go out and have a great time and I'd see her at the end of the turn.
"I never saw her again."
Somewhere along the ninth hole, in a town that was recently ranked one of the safest cities in Iowa, Barquin disappeared on the morning of Sept. 17. Her body was found in a pond near the hole. Police determined she had been assaulted and stabbed in the upper torso, head and neck. Collin Daniel Richards, a homeless man who was camped in a wooded area near the course, was arrested and charged with first-degree murder.
Harley Thornton's foursome was the first group to notice something was wrong. They found Barquin's Iowa State golf bag on the fairway and became more alarmed when they saw tees strewn about and her cellphone abandoned. They had met her on the fourth hole earlier that morning and had a friendly visit. Though Barquin was using a pushcart, they could immediately tell she would be much quicker and invited her to play through. They watched her step up to the men's tees and hit an impressive drive to the fairway.
Thornton figures they were probably the last people to talk to Barquin. When he got in his car to go to the police department and give a statement, he noticed that the car next to him was covered in police tape. His voice cracked when he talked Wednesday because he had a cold. Though he's 80, Thornton said he rarely catches colds, but the stress of the week got to him.
He can't stop thinking about the 22-year-old, who was killed five months after she qualified for the U.S. Women's Open, and about a week and a half after she received her Big 12 championship ring. He's not alone. Barquin's death has affected even the highest reaches of golf globally, and this weekend in France, Ryder Cup players on both sides are wearing yellow ribbons in her honor.
Golfers who played with her were certain Barquin was going to be a star, not only because of her accuracy and confidence, but because of her effervescent personality. There was an innocence that drew people to her.
When Barquin found out she would be honored as ISU's athlete of the year, she could barely contain herself.
"Do I get to be on the football field and be recognized in front of all those people?" she asked ISU senior associate athletic director Steve Malchow. "Is my picture going to be on the big board?"
Barquin's picture was on the video board Saturday during a moment of silence before the Iowa State-Akron game, and her award was unclaimed.
"She was just beyond one in a million," Thornton said. "I think of her as a special gift to the world."
By virtue of even owning a parka, Iowa State coach Christie Martens was at a significant disadvantage in recruiting Barquin, a highly regarded young golfer in her hometown of Puente San Miguel, Spain. Barquin's coaches told her that if she was going to play college golf in the United States, she would need to pick a school in the South or the West.
Barquin politely gave her the "I'll keep it in mind" line, which, in recruitspeak, is pretty much a no. A strong season by Barquin in Spain didn't help Martens' cause. More schools wanted her.
But Martens was undaunted. She visited Barquin's hometown, which Martens describes as "the most beautiful place you've ever seen in your life, the Pyrenees mountains meeting the sea." How would Ames possibly live up to that? She headed to France to watch Barquin play in the Grand Prix de Chiberta and walked the course with the golfer's mother, who wasn't fluent in English. Leaning on four years of high school Spanish, Martens talked about Iowa State's academics and the school's biggest asset -- the people. Martens told her that Celia wouldn't be just another player: She'd be family.
Martens' husband, Bobby, accompanied her on the trip. He would later tell people that he didn't know Christie could speak Spanish, and then all of a sudden she and MaA'ngeles Arozamena were engrossed in a conversation.
"[Barquin's] mom thought she was speaking English," Martens said of the encounter. "I thought I was speaking Spanish."
At 5 o'clock the next morning, Barquin emailed Martens: "I want to come to Iowa State."
The coach was so excited she yelled, "Oh my gosh!" in her hotel room despite the early hour. Barquin was the biggest recruit Martens has ever landed in her 13 years at Iowa State.
Barquin didn't exactly wow her future teammates on a recruiting visit to Ames. Her dad, Marcos Barquin Gonzalez, accompanied her. The big-time recruit stood just 5-foot-2 and didn't look like much when she arrived at Iowa State's practice facility in street clothes. She borrowed a club, hit a drive and chunked it. Prima Thammaraks, a senior from Thailand, was underwhelmed.
"I'm looking at Coach like, 'Are you sure about this one?'" Thammaraks said.
Thammaraks handed her a putter, and Barquin sank a long uphill shot, which Thammaraks said was from about 45 feet away. Barquin wore the expression of a person who expected to make it all along. She seemed so mature. Most recruits walk in wanting people to think they're good, Thammaraks said. Barquin didn't care about that. She knew she was good.
Barquin arrived on campus a couple of weeks late in the fall of 2014 because she was competing in the Junior Olympics in China. When she got to the dorm, one of her fellow recruits told another, "She's here and she's small."
Barquin might not have been able to drive the ball far, but she could sure hit it straight. "She would hit every single fairway," Martens said. She was the fastest golfer the coach ever met. Her pre-shot routine lasted about three seconds. She was so sure of herself that she didn't want to overthink anything.
Her English wasn't great that first semester, but she was a fast learner. She wanted to be an engineer and was deciding which focus to take when an advisor told her to avoid civil engineering because it was the hardest and wouldn't bode well with her travel schedule.
"OK, great. Thanks," she told the advisor. "I'll be a civil engineer."
Her confidence never came across as ego. It couldn't, not when she would tell people she was "going to win you no matter what." One of her best friends was Kamin, the only American on the team. They were roommates for two years. They'd throw down balls on the grass, put themselves in difficult situations and sometimes Kamin would say, "I don't think I can do that shot" -- and Barquin would walk down, throw the ball down in the same spot and hit a perfect shot.
"She was extremely motivating for me in terms of golf," Kamin said. "She had the best attitude you could have on the golf course. She was invincible. She was going out there to birdie every hole. There was no fear in her game."
Their group chat during senior year was called, "Put a Big 12 Ring on It." Barquin was the one who came up with the name. She was sitting at a banquet once when she noticed track and field star Jhoanmy Luque sporting a Big 12 championship ring. She asked Luque how she got the ring, and the answer was something to the effect, of umm, I won it. Barquin had never seen one before.
A few weeks later in Dallas, Barquin was in contention for the Big 12 individual title. She had always talked about winning a tournament in college, and now she was in her final weeks of eligibility and time was running out. Kamin, who wasn't playing, tried everything to pump her up. When they were younger, they'd do this thing in practice called star jumps in which they would leap in the air and yell, "I'm a star!"
Kamin decided to do it again around the 16th hole in Dallas, but since this was a tournament, she would just mouth the words as she jumped. Barquin hit the trees on the 17th hole, but like many other moments, she didn't get rattled. She claimed a three-shot victory.
A few weeks later, at a sectional qualifier, Barquin shot a blistering 66 in the final round of a sectional to qualify for the U.S. Women's Open. Her friends back home stopped following her online earlier in the day, when she shot 6-over in her first 18 holes. They figured she was done.
Barquin nonchalantly texted Kamin to tell her she had qualified and put an "LOL" at the end.
"She basically won everything," said golfer Fatima Fernandez Cano, a longtime friend. "It really had been her year."
Collin Daniel Richards also was 22. He grew up in Coon Rapids, Iowa, about 70 miles southwest of Coldwater Links, and court records reveal a long history of violence. When he was 18, he was arrested on charges of domestic abuse and pleaded guilty. He once admitted to being high on drugs and stealing a pickup truck; in another incident, he shoplifted and threatened to shoot up the store.
While Richards was shuffling from prison to a shelter this past summer in Ames, Barquin was preparing for the European Ladies' Amateur Championship in late July, which she won in Slovakia. Though her eligibility was exhausted this past spring, she returned to Ames for the fall semester so she could finish her degree.
A few days before Sept. 17, Richards, according to a criminal complaint, was walking on a trail path near the golf course when he told an acquaintance that he had an urge to rape and kill a woman.
Richards made his initial court appearance the day after the murder, and Story County Attorney Jessica Reynolds said that the crime is believed to be a random act of violence. Richards was being held at the Story County Jail on a $5 million bond and was awaiting a preliminary hearing on Friday.
The Iowa State women's golf team was competing at a meet in Ann Arbor, Michigan, when Martens heard the news. A university plane that was in Florida while the men's basketball coaches were on a recruiting trip was sent to Michigan to pick up the golf team.
Kamin, who graduated in May and now is employed in Denver, was just about to leave work when Martens called to tell her about Barquin.
"My first reaction was, 'How do they know? They don't know for sure that's her,'" Kamin said. "It was a lot of disbelief. I just didn't understand."
Kamin was the last one left at work, and she sat down and waited and worried. She scoured social media to see if anything had been posted. The team was on the plane by then, so she couldn't call them. She called her mother in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. "Are they sure?" she asked her mom.
Kamin headed back to Iowa, because she couldn't stay in Denver, not when her family was hurting. She went to Barquin's apartment and saw her written schedule that she had posted on the wall, the goals that would never be met.
Barquin had recently decided to make her Catholic faith a bigger part of her life. She would go to Thursday mass at St. Thomas Aquinas and was beginning to prepare for confirmation. She had a serious boyfriend named Carlos Negrin Bolanos. Martens said the couple had been best friends for about three years before they finally started dating.
In one of their last long conversations -- they talked every day -- Barquin told her coach that she was happy that it would take another year to graduate, because she knew how hard it would be to say goodbye to Ames.
"When goodbyes are hard," Martens said, "it means the time has been good."
The Symetra Tour is the minor leagues of women's golf. It's not particularly glamorous or lucrative. One afternoon, you're playing in Prattville, Alabama, and a few hours later, you're driving through the night in a beat-up car to get to the next event in Orlando.
Barquin probably would have been on track to live that life next summer. The pay would have been low and the days long. And she would have loved it.
The summer was long and rainy, and the greens weren't always in great condition. A few of the women on the tour were recently complaining among themselves about the grind, and then they heard about Barquin's death, and they felt horrible.
"After what happened to Celia, we're like, 'You know what? This is a wake-up call. Why are you complaining? Celia would never complain about this,'" Thammaraks said. "And we shouldn't. We're doing what we love. We're lucky to be living the life we're living."
Barquin was having the year of her life. That's why she was out on the course at Coldwater on that warm Monday morning. Not because she was a loner, as one media outlet suggested when they talked to Martens about why she played by herself that day.
Barquin was there because she knew how close she was, to her degree, her LPGA card and her dream. She was unafraid. It was Ames, Iowa, and she was swinging a golf club in the serenity of the tallgrass and trees. She shouldn't have had any reason to be afraid.