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Rianne of the rise

Once a victim of bullying, the 14-year-old is out to carve a name for herself.

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Photographs by JOEY SANCHEZ MENDOZA for the daily tribune @tribunephl_joey A FORMER bullying victim, Rianne has risen to be a world-class golf talent.

Rianne Mikhaela Malixi has admitted to have been bullied at school twice, but that did not stop her from becoming one of the country’s rising amateur golfers.
She was in second grade when she first experienced being bullied by a classmate.

“He would make me feel I was below him. I don’t remember, but I know when we went to the principal’s office, that’s where I cried a lot,” she narrated.
The second time took place when she was in sixth grade, but instead of crying, she did something about it.

“This Korean boy would make fun of my looks and call me names. It was this period when I was struggling in golf, so it was tough,” she recalled.
What happened next nobody expected.

“I grabbed his head and shoved it near the edge of the locker. I saw how his eyes nearly hit the corner,” Rianne said. “When I went home, I told my parents that I wanted to be homeschooled.”

Rianne is now in Grade 9 and home schooling has given her an opportunity to work on her game.

“To those people facing the same situation, don’t feel down. Don’t let them get into your mind. You are way better than that person,” she said.

Rianne said she has moved on and became stronger from the experience.

“If I look back to that time, I just laugh it off,” she said.

Rianne has just returned from a hectic two-month campaign in the United States highlighted by stints in the US Girls and US Women’s Amateur Championships where she advanced into the knockout stages.

Rianne Mikhaela Malixi, Amateur Golf Champion 082221 joey sanchez Mendoza

Originally, the plan was for Rianne to compete only in the Future Champions Golf and International Management Group junior world championships, according to her father Roy.

“But since her world ranking has gone down to 1,470, we decided to extend her campaign from two weeks to two months,” he said.

Rianne skipped the two junior events and focused on tournaments that would improve her ranking.

Aside from swing coach Norman Sto. Domingo, Roy said they sought help of former mentor Willy Panganiban, her game coach, and former Canadian tour player Rick Gibson to help her with the short game.

Rianne also had plyometric training under coach Cay Lim for strengthening.

She also tried new and heavier clubs that led to a back strain in February. She was advised to rest for six weeks and got the green light to play only in April.

For a while, Roy thought of canceling the US trip altogether, but Rianne was determined.

Rianne Mikhaela Malixi, Amateur Golf Champion 082221 joey sanchez Mendoza

With the support of Tony Pancho, general manager of Royal Northwoods Golf and Country Club, Rianne got to play six uninterrupted days, including when the course was closed for maintenance.

Before they left for the US, Roy said Rianne was averaging three-under at Royal Northwoods.

Through the help of Bobbet Bruce, former junior golf president, Rianne’s schedule was completed, including qualifying tournaments for the US Girls and US Women’s Amateur.

In the US, Rianne played a total of 24 tournament rounds, averaging 69.5. Her best round was six-under while her worst was 10-over.

She had one victory at the Se Ri Pak Desert Junior Championship at the Mission Hills Dinah Shore course in Rancho Mirage, California.

Before she returned to the Philippines, Rianne has climbed to 292 in the world amateur rankings.

STAR-STRUCK Rianne says she learned a lot competing against current world No. 1 amateur Rose Zhang (left).

During the days she spent under quarantine, Rianne took the opportunity to take to heart the lessons learned during her two-month stay in the US.

“I need to work on my short game and putting,” she said.

Rianne admitted that prior to her US trip, she spent more time on iron play and spent just an hour each for putting and short game.

“I would head back and do my usual routine like what I did before the US trip. But I would work longer hours on my weaknesses,” she said.

Roy, who accompanied his daughter in the US, cited mental toughness and putting the things that Rianne needs to develop as she matures.

“This is the same attribute I saw in Rose Zhang,” he said.

Zhang, the world’s top-ranked amateur, ousted Rianne in the Round of 32 of the US Girls Championship.

Rianne said she learned a lot from Zhang.

“I now know how a world No. 1 plays. I’d say her putting is one of her strengths. Once she is on her momentum, that’s where her approach shots dial in. She dominated in iron play and putting when she feels confident,” she said.

Rianne and Zhang did not talk much during the match, but chatted briefly after she asked for an autograph.

“She (Zhang) said that I was a good player and that I did a great job,” Rianne recalled.

To get to Zhang’s level, Rianne said she needs to work on her confidence and be more comfortable putting.

One thing that Rianne managed to hold her own against Zhang was off the tee. Both carry their tee shots between 230 and 240 yards.

She said her goal is to drive the ball in the vicinity of 250-260 by mid next year.

“I’m only 14, I have a long way to go,” she said.

Rianne also has high regard for reigning US Women’s Open champion Yuka Saso, her former teammate while playing for Pradera Verde in the Philippine Airlines Ladies Interclub team championships in 2018.

“I love how she treats people with respect. I told myself this is how champions should be,” said Rianne who was only 11 when she helped Pradera Verde defend its crown.

On her future plans, she is not discounting the possibility of skipping college golf and turning pro when she finishes senior high school.

“It will all depend on my performance in the next four years. If I do well, I will turn pro. But if I need more time, college golf is a good option,” she said.

At this point, however, Rianne ranks her game at 5.5 with 10 as the top mark.

“All aspects of my game need more accuracy,” said Rianne, whose dream is to become the No. 1 golfer in the world.

Rianne has come a long way since she first picked up the club at the age of eight.

“Her progress has been phenomenal. I saw her passion about the sport and she’s very eager to learn something every time. She can easily understand and do what her coaches teach,” Roy said.

The father said he has sacrificed his social life to invest their resources in Rianne.

He admitted to dipping his hand on their savings to fund their recent trip to the US.

“The money was intended for the house we were constructing near Capitol golf,” he said.

They bought the lot long before Capitol shut down.

Roy assured, however, that the house will be completed as scheduled.

With golf tournaments still banned during the pandemic, Rianne will have to find ways to stay competitive.

She plays regularly at Royal Northwoods, a 23-year-old course designed by Australian Graham Marsh located in San Rafael, Bulacan.

There are no plans in the horizon, but Roy is hopeful that Rianne will resume her campaign on or before November.

Since Roy has used up his leave credits this year, Rianne will be accompanied by her mother Michelle.

The girl who overcame bullying at an early age is not going to be denied a chance to join the country’s long list of international stars.

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