For her first two years of high school, Faith Garcia didn't have the option of playing on a girls golf team.
So naturally, she turned to Plan B.
Enrolled at Trinity Catholic, one of the 10 FCIAC schools where golf is a boys-only sport, Garcia opted to play alongside her male counterparts. She was quick to settle in on the scorecard as a freshman, averaging a 44 over nine holes as the Crusaders' No. 5 golfer.
The next year, Garcia played regularly at No. 4 -- and once or twice at No. 3, she says -- but admits that it was a "little awkward" being the lone girl, particularly during matches.
"Guys (opponents) would say, `Oh there's a girl on the team, so she must not be that great or something.' So it was kind of rough," she recalled last week. "But after that they were nice about it, once we finished the round."
All the while, Garcia was blossoming on the course -- she repeated as champion of the Borck Junior Tournament at Mill River in Stratford last August -- and before long, she found a new home. Before this school year, Garcia moved to Westport with her family in search of a better education. She enrolled at Staples, a school with a prominent girls golf program.
"We looked into golf a little bit, but we were focused on the academics," Garcia said.
The move paid immediate dividends for both Garcia and the Wreckers. The junior enjoyed her strongest season yet, entrenching herself as the No. 1 for a team that was both the FCIAC and state runner-up. She scored in the 30's six times this year, carding a school-record round of 37 in the process.
She was a welcomed arrival for Staples' longtime coach.
"That's like hitting the lotto when you get a player of her caliber," said Bob Byiteck, in his 17th year at the helm. "It [was] just sensational to hear the news that she [was] transferring to Westport."
Garcia, who led Staples with six birdies this season, is committed to lowering her overall scores even more -- another one or two strokes, she believes. It's Garcia's intangibles, Byiteck believes, that elevate the junior above the competition.
"I would say because of her commitment, her dedication and her work ethic, being the best she can be, she is the best player we've had in my 17 years," the coach said.
Fashioning a swing that immediately caught Byiteck's eye because of its power and accuracy it produces, Garcia led Staples with an average of 3-over par this year. She earned all-state and all-conference honors.
"When I watched her swing, I just said, `This is special. This is someone who has worked hard on her mechanics. This is someone who has a beautiful swing,'" Byiteck said.
Garcia's most recent round for the Wreckers came June 4 in the 18-hole state championships at Orange Hills County Club in Orange, where she placed sixth out of 83 golfers with an 11-over 85. By finishing in the top 10, she qualified for the New England championship June 17 at Bretwood Golf Club in Keene, N.H.
Playing the sport since age 10, Garcia has crafted her game to the point where Byiteck believes she's complete. He lauded her performance off the tee for distance -- on average 240 to 250 yards, he estimates -- and precision.
"She drives the ball really well, she hits her irons really well, her trap play is great," Byiteck said. "She's a very good putter. ... If there was a part that wasn't as good as the other, she would be working on that as hard as she can."
Mary Bennewitz, who played No. 2 for Staples this year, saw Garcia's all-around abilities first-hand when the duo squared off in match play in the final of last season's Borck Tournament. Garcia prevailed 2 and 1.
"She just chips it on the green and makes it into the hole from there," said Bennewitz, a sophomore. "It's incredible to watch."
Garcia has honed her abilities at school and through the various programs she's played for: Metropolitan PGA, Women's Metropolitan Golf Association, U.S. Junior Girls and the First Tee Program. Describing herself as "more of a feel person than a mechanical person" in her approach, Garcia believes she needs to be more consistent in her decision making on the course.
"I could definitely do better," Garcia admitted. "I just need to practice more, which is not really my big thing. ... I need to think more before I hit and take my time and not rush. That was my struggle. Sometimes I would just look at the ball for a second and hit it."
Byiteck believes that Garcia has the potential to play Division-I in college and at the professional ranks. Described by her coach as "reserved" and "unassuming," Garcia -- soft-spoken and all -- is determined to reach that next level.
"I think I can be up to that level," she said. "All I have to do is be consistent and manage myself near the course so that I could maintain a good score."
Garcia, however, does find time to enjoy herself while focused on her goals.
"We're such good friends that she opens up to me, and we have a good time," Bennewitz said. "We laugh and joke on the course. We try to keep it serious, but sometimes it's impossible. She is determined to win and to do the best she can, and acheieve her goals ... no matter what."
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