Vince Ward enjoys playfully teasing his daughter, Callia, about her similarity to a certain renowned golfer known to many as the greatest of all time.
The father says Callia, an 11-year-old who lives in Albuquerque, is like Tiger Woods, a “Cablinasian,” as Vince is half black and his wife, Renee, is half Asian.
“I tell her: there are only two of you in golf,” Vince Ward says. “The other one is the best who has ever played, so you should be good.”
Callia actually possesses tremendous potential, and for now she really is good, especially with regard to driving, chipping and putting. The precocious girl with a bushy hairdo is one of 80 junior golfers to have earned an invitation to Augusta National Golf Club to compete in the fifth annual Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals on April 1, prior to the start of the Masters.
“It doesn’t happen that often, or even at all, that a girl looking like (Callia) gets a club on that course, or even sets foot on that course,” Vince Ward said.
Callia is excited to compete against nine other golfers in the girls 10-11 division. She doesn’t mind the attention she has received from her friends at Albuquerque Country Club and various local media that have been touting her accomplishments. The Drive, Chip and Putt event will be televised on the Golf Channel.
Callia has been training at least five days each week since winning the regional at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla., on Sept. 16.
She has also been competing in junior tournaments.
“I really like golf,” Callia said. “It’s a challenge. I like challenges.”
Vince said his daughter enjoys competing. Of course, she continues to learn about the game, but her demeanor is suitable for the demands, frustrations and celebrations.
“She’s pretty competitive, but she has a really good attitude about it,” Vince Ward said of his athletic daughter, who tried tennis, gymnastics, soccer and mixed martial arts before immersing herself in golf. “If she plays great, she has a good attitude. If she doesn’t play great, she has a good attitude. She has a perfect disposition for golf, because you can’t play great all the time, right? Some days you’re going to have good days and some days you’re going to have bad days. That’s just the way it is.”
Callia’s life isn’t all about the game. She still finds time to be a kid.
She doesn’t pass up an opportunity for horseback riding. She also likes to sing. She listens to Taylor Swift, Demi Lovato and Charlie Puth, among others. She’s in the “Madagascar” children’s musical at Manzano Day School. She plays King Julien, the prominent and comical lemur character.
She admits she becomes a bit nervous before performing in front of people. She was definitely nervous the night before competing at the subregional at CommonGround in Aurora, Colo., on Aug. 12.
“She kind of wakes up in the middle of the night,” Vince Ward said. “And, in her sleep she was trying to figure out what putter she should use.”
She ended up winning the subregional, finishing ahead of fellow Albuquerquean Lillian McDermott. In addition to Callia and Lillian, Rylee Salome of Los Lunas also qualified for the regional at Southern Hills by winning the subregional at the Heritage Golf Course at Westmoor in Broomfield, Colo.
Keep those three girls in mind when thinking of the future of golf in New Mexico.
Callia wants to solely concentrate on April 1 and Augusta. While she trains she also receives lessons from Dorothy Delasin, who won four events on the LPGA Tour and also had a strong amateur career, winning the U.S. Girls Junior title in 1996 and the U.S. Women’s Amateur championship in 1999.
Delasin is fully aware of Callia’s potential. Callia began as her youngest student at age 6.
“She’s a strong hitter and can hit the ball far for her age,” said Delasin, who works at the Championship Golf Course at UNM. “She enjoys the game. I told her to have fun (at Augusta). She’s only 11. To me having fun is what’s more important.”
Callia, who can drive the ball 180 yards, also receives advice from Albuquerque’s star golfer Notah Begay. Callia says Begay has told her to visualize putts and the ball falling into the hole. He tells her to stay calm.
Callia also put that to use when chipping. At Southern Hills and CommonGround, she hit five of six chips within a foot of the cup from 30 yards and 15 yards, respectively.
“I couldn’t be happier that someone from New Mexico is going to the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals,” said Begay, who will also be at the Masters as an analyst with the Golf Channel. “I think it’s important that people in the community recognize how wonderful that is. We’re always pointing out negative things in our community, the low economy, and the way of life here. But now we see a ray of hope that is going to be representing us in the most watched venue in the world. This is something that our community and golf community should be proud of. I couldn’t be more excited.”
Begay has two children who attend Manzano Day School with Callia. As part of a fundraiser last fall, Begay offered up a guys’ trip to the Masters as an auction item. Vince Ward was among a group that won the trip with its bid.
Callia wanted to go too.
She competed in the Drive, Chip and Putt the past two years, never reaching the final regional. But this year she had extra motivation.
“I wanted to crash his party,” Callia said with a smile.