Win or Lose, a Young Texan Plays With Heart

Ariana Saenz cherishes the solitude of golf. She always has. A golfer can tell you there is something special in that moment when it’s just you, the club and the ball.

Saenz, 15, discovered that universal truth at a young age. After she underwent open-heart surgery as a 3-year-old to repair two holes in her heart, the recovery process led her to golf.

“The doctors told my father to find an activity for me to become more active,” Saenz said. “He bought a set of plastic clubs for me. “That was it. It just stuck.”

Today, there is nothing about golf that Ariana doesn’t embrace.

“I love meeting new people,” Ariana said. “I love that not every day is the same on a golf course. The challenge of golf is the unknown. I love it when I’m by myself … and (trying to) control my game.”

Ariana Saenz hits her drive during the Drive, Chip & Putt National Finals at Augusta National Sunday.
Ariana Saenz reacts to a putt during Sunday's Drive, Chip & Putt National Finals at Augusta National.

On Sunday, Saenz and her family—father Jesus, mother Maria and sister Isabella, 10—made another discovery: Augusta National Golf Club.

As a finalist in the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals, Ariana and her family got a much-anticipated firsthand look at a place they have heard so much about.

On the drive into Augusta National on a brisk morning, Ariana said up front next to the bus driver for an unobstructed view of Magnolia Lane.

“She wanted to take it all in,” Jesus Saenz said. “It was dark, but even in the dark she said, ‘Look how beautiful this is.’ She had chills.”

Ariana was born in Houston, and the family lives in Porter, Texas. She’s a 10th-grade student at Kingwood Park High. Her father is an assistant aviation director, her mother a benefits specialist. Golf is a family affair, and Ariana carries a horseshoe from her grandfather in her golf bag as a tribute to him.

Maria Saenz is a source of inspiration to her family. She was diagnosed with breast cancer last year and, as Jesus said, it was a hammer blow to the entire family.

“She has been so mentally strong,” Ariana said. “She gets up every day and does everything normally. She’s pretty amazing and very much an inspiration. She never complains. I don’t know how she does it.”

“The doctors told my father to find an activity for me to become more active. He bought a set of plastic clubs for me. That was it. It just stuck.” - Ariana Saenz

In much the same way, Ariana has been an inspiration to her family.

“She has been a fighter since day one,” Maria Saenz said. “She’s had countless challenges thrown at her. She always has her game face on and takes care of business. I am so proud of her I cannot tell you.”

Ariana has learned never to complain, especially on a golf course where it is so easy to do so.

The Saenz family closely follows professional golf. They know well the story of Erik Compton, the double heart-transplant patient who will make his Masters debut this week.

“Ariana knows what he’s been through," Jesus Saenz said. "She understands the whole thing about transplants. She's been through it (open-heart surgery).”

Ariana’s group was first off the tee in the competition and she was second on the tee. After the driving and chipping competition, she topped the group before finishing sixth overall behind Alexandra Swayne of Maineville, Ohio. Swayne won the age group in a playoff against Jennifer Rosenberg of Laurel Holllow, N. Y.

“Ariana had a blast,” Jesus Seanz said. “This is the greatest thing on earth. What an experience just standing there watching her. Everyone likes to win. Everyone here is a winner. This is an experience for a lifetime, something she’ll carry forever.”