Big Game with a Big Heart: NAU's Emma Reyes Driven by Character

NAU's Emma Reyes
NAU's Emma Reyes

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Growing up, expectations are inevitably thrusted onto aspiring athletes. It is unavoidable, and according to Northern Arizona University golfer Emma Reyes, her father had some pretty lofty ideas about her and her sister's future as it concerned the game of golf.

"My father was determined to make us the next Venus and Serena Williams of golf," says Reyes.

While she certainly has a long ways to go, Reyes is cognitive of the idea that golf is just a game. Her love for it and the enjoyment she receives from playing it is uncontested, but she is quite intuitive to what she wants out of life and her collegiate experience. What makes her revelations even more intriguing is the fact she is only a second-semester freshman.

"Golf is everything to me, but I've never had the goal of being a professional golfer and I can admit that," Reyes confides, as she swivels back-and-forth in a conference room chair—just a small reflection of her happy-go-lucky attitude. "I honestly think that golf is one huge metaphor for life. It builds so much character—respect, integrity, honesty, sportsmanship, confidence—and that's how I interpret golf as a sport: a vehicle for improving not only your physical skills but yourself as a person too."

The personality Reyes exuberates is a palpable one: an overflowing wave of positivity that can crash on the shores of even the most unshakable of humans and wash away any inclining of doubt or despondency. It is this very mindset she credits as her greatest asset, and in a game that can arguably take the greatest of mental tolls on an athlete, it is crucial to have both a short attention span and a reinforcing behavior.  

"Getting to the collegiate level is a big accomplishment and many hours were put into reaching this platform, and I feel like putting unproductive pressure on yourself and your game is unnecessary," declares Reyes. "We've all worked so hard to get to this point that we shouldn't be intimated or have second-thoughts about our skillset and abilities."

It is one thing to hold those sentiments and another thing entirely to follow through with them. To her credit, though, it appears Reyes is taking her own advice to heart and executing on the golf course.

As many freshmen getting acclimated to playing a Division I sport and being away from home for the first time can attest and will admit, it was a bit of a struggle for Reyes during the 2016 fall season: scoring at an average clip above 81 and only recording one sub-80 round in general.  In the first two tournaments of the NAU spring season, though, Reyes has been slotted into the Lumberjack scoring lineup and has made small but noticeable improvements in her first six rounds: subtracting a couple strokes off her average round score (79.00) and registering four sub-80 rounds.

"I've been excited for the spring season for a while now," says Reyes. "I will have to admit that last semester, it was intimidating being a division I golfer. But now, I feel as though I'm becoming a part of this community more and more each day and it's great."

Part of that settling in and comfortability has a lot to do with the help and guidance of head golf coach Brad Bedortha and graduate assistant coach Langley Vannoy. It is their kind but firm approach that Reyes believes is an aspect of their coaching style unique to the NAU golf program.

"Both of our coaches have definitely kicked my butt," Reyes admits through a big smile and a laugh. "They lovingly pat you on the back and tell you that you need to get your crap together. As an athlete, your responsibility is to take that advice and that corrective criticism and do with it as you please."

It is hard to argue with the kind of progression Reyes has made under the current NAU coaching regime in just the last three months. Clearly, the type of program the Lumberjack golf team is led under is one built on a foundation of consideration for the person first and athlete second, and it is the same one Reyes—as well as the other golfers on the team—have been able to thrive under.  

"Coach Bedortha and Coach Vannoy have helped me in so many ways, and I love my coaches with all my heart because they're not going to hold back. I know other coaches don't sit down and talk with you about what improvements need to be made in your game. These coaches really get to know me and the other golfers on the team on a deeper level, and I don't know if that's necessarily true with other programs around the nation."

While she is only on the very precipice of her young collegiate career, Reyes—like all collegiate golfers—is determined to become a mainstay in the team's scoring lineup in the weeks and years to come. However, she will be the first to tell you that her first priority is being a great teammate and an even better person to those that surround her.

In the end, Reyes believes it is who you are, not what you do, that defines the success of a life well-lived.

"Success is a very vague concept, and a lot of people would associate success with happiness and that happiness is derived from how much they accomplish or don't accomplish," Reyes imparts with a uncharacteristic seriousness. "But now, when I think about the end goal of what I want to do with my life and how I want to live it, nobody is going to be thinking about all the trophies I received, what job title I had or how much money I made. Instead, people are going to think about those moments you loved and showed love to others; people are going to remember how you made them feel, and I just want to be a type of person that made them feel loved."