Venecia Zaia talks hole-in-one, her special ball marker, Rickie Fowler and pineapple on pizza


UNCA Athletics

Junior Venecia Zaia lines up a shot.

Jared Feinberg, Sports Writer, [email protected]

UNC Asheville women’s golf is in the spotlight as they continue their strong run heading into the twilight of the fall semester.

One Bulldog who found herself in that spotlight is junior Venecia Zaia, who recently hit a hole-in-one at the Terrier Intercollegiate in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

In the first round of the tournament, Zaia shot 81 for the day. The next day during round two, she said she was already feeling confident as she approached the third hole of the round.

“I knew I was going to shoot even or under par because I had a birdie before the hole-in-one, and I knew I wouldn’t mess up as I did in the first round,” Zaia said.

For the fifth time in her golf career Zaia hit a hole-in-one, leaving her group both stunned and in shock. 

“The group I was in was like, ‘what the heck?!?’ At first, I was like ‘no guys, it’s right there at the edge,’” she said. “When we got there and it’s in the hole and we were all like, ‘no way!’”

Zaia had never hit a hole-in-one at the collegiate level. However, she said she had previously hit them at a competitive tournament, a charity event and on her birthday. “Sinking one in college was pretty exciting,” she said.

After every hole-in-one, a player will have the ball as a trophy and not use it for the rest of the tournament or invitational event. Zaia chose to play with the ball for the rest of the round, finishing -3 with a score of 69. She would finish the tournament at +15 and 231, enough to finish tied for 20th, individually.

Off the golf course and outside the classroom, Zaia is an energetic person who said she loves astronomy and likes to hang out with her friends. She said she enjoys learning about space and likes to look up information about future rocket launches.

“I’m good friends with some of the girls on the tennis team and I’m good friends with the cross-country guys. I like to hang out with them,” Zaia said.

The Murrietta, California native said she looks up to Ladies Professional Golf Association player Gaby López and how she represents herself and her community.

“I am half-Mexican and my mom’s family all live in Chihuahua, Mexico. The way López represents herself, her country and her family is really cool. I would like to emulate the way she represents her homeland,” Zaia said.

Zaia grew up on the Murrieta Valley Golf Range, the same range star PGA player Rickie Fowler grew up on as well. She also went to the same high school Fowler did at a time before he was one of the best golf players in the world.

“The way he represents where he’s from is really cool. I like his game because he’s strategic but aggressive at the same time, and I’m the same way sometimes,” Zaia said.

Every time she goes to play a tournament or event, Zaia has a ball marker she uses that has her brother’s name on it. 

Her brother Michael, who goes by Mick, recently graduated high school. Mick has autism and is nonverbal, which means he cannot speak or communicate with others. Zaia said her ball marker is used to represent her brother and family in the best way that she can.

“As his older sister, I’m his voice and I can represent him, and my family is his voice, too. I think when you have something to represent, work hard for and play for it really shows,” Zaia said.

Zaia, who graduates in the spring of 2024, has now been with the women’s golf program for three years. One of the biggest things she said she’s learned since arriving at UNCA has been to support her teammates and coaches no matter what. 

“During my freshman year that was hard to do. But I have definitely learned that it is worth it to support everybody 100% and as much as you can to keep that team chemistry there,” Zaia said.

As she continues to grow as a golfer, Zaia has learned to keep the negativity out of what she and her teammates are trying to do while working hard in practice and tournament play.

“Even if somebody says or does something, you need to be by that person’s side no matter what was said or what was done,” she said.

There was a time when Zaia used to panic about where the ball had landed after her shots. Former head coach Ericka Schneider taught her to relax and that everything wasn’t as urgent as she thought it was. 

Since he arrived as the new women’s golf coach, Ross Cash proved himself a great mentor for Zaia and her teammates. She explains that Coach Cash has already taught her how it is OK to show emotion after shots good or bad instead of being even-keeled.

“Everyone else before him told me you have to stay even keel. It has to look like you’re a robot out there. I’m a very enthusiastic person and express a lot of emotion and feelings all of the time,” Zaia said.

Cash reminds Zaia of her dad because of how supportive he is of her and her teammates, and is always working to help better develop their skill sets at practice each day. She also explains that Cash has a saying “keep the ball on the Earth,” meaning not hitting the ball into any hazards on the course.

Despite his short time with the Bulldogs, Zaia said Cash is a very positive person who makes everyone laugh and called him one of her biggest role models.

“It’s like we’re working hard out there but having fun at the same time. You can see all the love he has for the game and the girls in his program already. Even though he’s been here a few months, we’ve all gotten very close to him,” Zaia said.

To show off a different side of her, Zaia occasionally attempts a Happy Gilmore swing just to have fun. A Happy Gilmore swing comes from the 1996 movie “Happy Gilmore”, in which Adam Sander’s character rather than attempting a conventional swing goes for a walking approach.   

“One of my favorite things is to try how he putts the ball. I love how he putts with his hockey stick and I will do that. You can ask my teammates,” Zaia said.

Zaia likes to study at Highsmith Union, with her only gripe being the small study rooms because of how enclosed they are. However, her favorite place to study and do homework is at the kitchen table of her apartment.

“When I was little, I would always do homework at the kitchen table and I got the most done there. I don’t study in my room because that’s where I go to sleep and relax,” she said.

Although not on campus as often, except to attend classes, Zaia said her favorite place to eat on campus is Build Your Own Burger in the Highsmith Union food court takes the top spot.

“I’m not on campus much to eat but when I do I get a bagel from Roasted Coffee,” she said.

Pineapple on pizza is a controversial food opinion among mainstream culture. Zaia, who is also part Italian, gave her point of view on the controversial topic. “I’m not going to say it’s not good because it is really good. Does it belong there? I don’t know, you can be the judge of that,” she said.

Zaia said she puts tabasco sauce on her pizza because of the extra spicy it brings. Though, she was indifferent to the idea of general toppings on a pizza.

“I think anything belongs anywhere. My family’s opinion on the Italian side would all say no,” she said.