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Channeling Arozamena, Olarra drains playoff putt to advance to Augusta

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EVANS, Ga. – Twenty-five feet from a Saturday tee time at Augusta National, Ainhoa Olarra hoped for some divine intervention. She rubbed the bracelet on her wrist, the one bearing the initials "CBA" and the Spanish phrase, “Todo Cuenta, Todo Vale.”

Everything counts. Everything is all right.

That bracelet is one of the many ways Olarra has chosen to remember her late friend Celia Barquin Arozamena, the former Iowa State golfer who was murdered on a golf course in Ames, Iowa, last September. Olarra and Barquin Arozamena were friends for more than a decade, former high school teammates, foursomes partners for countless European amateur tournaments. Barquin Arozamena’s tragic death shook Olarra to the core.

“I couldn’t believe that I wouldn’t see her ever again or hear her voice,” Olarra said. “I really miss her a lot. I’ve had hard moments.”

Olarra has found the most comfort away from the sport that brought them together. After graduating from the international business school at South Carolina last spring, the former Gamecocks standout returned home to Spain to be closer to her family. Content not to pursue a professional career, despite being eighth in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, Olarra settled into her job as an auditor for Deloitte. The hours are long, but she enjoys the work.

“She’s busting it,” said her former college coach, Kalen Anderson, who is on her bag this week. “I’ve talked to her a few times, and it’s 9 or 10 o’clock when she’s getting out.”

That schedule left little time for golf, but her practice picked up in January, when she was invited here for the inaugural edition of the Augusta National Women’s Amateur. At 24, she’s the oldest player in the field – and the only one who is a full-time employee with a 401k.

Full-field scores from the Augusta National Women’s Amateur

Fueling her drive was the memory of her close friend and fellow countrywoman; in addition to the bracelet, she also carried a red-and-yellow leather “CBA” driver headcover, wore a yellow ribbon and used Barquin Arozamena’s coin and towel.

“I think she’s using it as inspiration,” Anderson said. “She’s channeled that into something really positive to inspire her and keep her going and fighting.”

For two rounds at Champions Retreat, Olarra didn’t look like a part-time player. She putted well and finished at 3-over 147, in a 10-way tie for 21st place, her position imperiled by a late miscue on the par-3 17th hole Thursday that resulted in a double bogey. “All week, it was really her only bad mistake for someone who wasn’t playing golf,” Anderson said.

Still, it was a costly mistake, as only the low 30 players advance to the third and final round at Augusta National on Saturday. Part of the 11-for-10 playoff, Olarra was one of two players to bogey the first extra hole, which meant she had to march back to the 17th – the hole she’d butchered just a few hours earlier.

With her opponent, Italy’s Alessia Nobilio, already safely on the green, Olarra pulled her 4-iron left of her intended target, but wound up in an ideal spot, 25 feet behind the flag.

“When I was about to make the putt,” Olarra said, “I was touching my wrist, like, 'Celia, I need you right now. I need you.'”

“When I saw her grab that,” Anderson said, “I had a feeling it was going in.”

Olarra hearted the putt, clinching her spot in the final round at Augusta, a course her friend always dreamed of playing.

“In a way, I feel like she’s been with me all week,” Olarra said. “We’re enjoying the ride together.”