In golf, Montito Garcia has no par

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Montito (left) with Jovi Neri (Photo by Frederic Chiongbian)

Like Lance Armstrong, he’s a veteran, an old-timer, and one of the oldest—if not the oldest—of the field and so he’s not supposed to win. Or dominate. Yet, there he was, winning his eighth Cebu Country Club (CCC) championship—a feat unmatched since the 52-hectare golf course was established in 1928.

To those who follow the sport and who swing and putt at the 6,481-yard, par-71 CCC, this you know: This is old news. That’s right. In fact, nearly a month-and-a-half has passed since Montito Garcia won the CCC Men’s Club Championships on May 30, 2009. But, “better late than never,” the old saying goes and so, here goes my Q & A with the champ…

“I thought 2007 was the last time I’d win,” he said when I asked how Title No. 8 felt. “This was a bonus.” Ever the soft-spoken and humble person, Montito added, “there were a lot of good players, especially the young jungolfers. I won it purely from experience.”

Ah, experience. Montito first picked up golf clubs at the age of 21, “after I got married,” he said. And, would you believe, “within my first year my handicap was down to seven.” Less than 12 months? Handicap less than seven? Wow. That’s called talent. Genius. Golf smarts. It’s also called amazing. (For millions of us would play for decades and never be a single-digit golfer.)

Talking of the E word, with 31 years of experience, Mr. Garcia had plenty compared to his protagonists at the club championships: the quarterfinalist “youngsters” included Jovi Manglapus, LJ Go, Charles Uy, Bayani Garcia, Mark Dy, Jovi Manglapus and Eric Deen.

What is experience? I asked. “It’s when you’re down and you tend to chase it, to feel a little extra pressure and to chase the win. Experience means being calm. For me, it means making as many pars as I can, and for the opponent to attempt birdies. Because my theory is, in the end, if you chase the win, you’ll make more bogeys.

“Golf is this type of game: he who makes the least mistakes wins. This is especially true for match play, like the ones we played.”

The CCC golf champion from 1991 (1990 edition) to 1995 (five consecutive years, a record), he also won in 2003 (beating Carl Almario in the finals), in 2007 (against Chuckie Hong) and this year.

Jovi Neri, a club champion himself in 2002 but the losing finalist two months ago, wrote a first-hand account of his 36-hole match play final in his popular blog (cccjungolf.multiply.com). Said Jovi: “With this win, Tito Mon stretched his record Club Championship haul to eight.  At 52 years old, he is perhaps the oldest champion although this would need to be verified…

“While much has been speculated about his inability to take the 36-hole grind on a final given that he plays with a golf cart nowadays, his record shows otherwise. He has won three titles since 2003, and has won in eight consecutive finals—never against the same opponent and five of whom also had titles under their belts.”

Apart from his lengthy experience on the golf course, Montito also credits another ingredient for his success: Being relaxed. “I don’t get rattled,” he said. “I always try to stay calm. I always tell myself, ‘It’s just a game.’ True, that’s the bottom-line. And with this attitude, I’ve grown to enjoy the pressure.”

Here’s another Quotable Quote: “Golf is 80 percent mental.” Montito added saying that, in golf, it should not matter whether you’re in the lead or you’re behind, you must “hit the ball the same way, putt the same way.”

At 52 years old, Montito admits that “it’s getting harder” to win. More so because five years ago, he had a heart bypass. But instead of that life-changing moment slowing him down, it has helped his game. “My outlook has changed,” he said. “Now, I enjoy the games much, much more.”

Frankie Miñoza he considers his idol and mentor. The two have practiced many times together. As to his world-wide favorite? “Tiger, of course.”

To Montito, Cebu’s version of Mr. Woods, congratulations!

(More stories by Atty. Jovi Neri at cccjungolf.multiply.com)

(More photos by golfer/marathon runner Frederic Chiongbian here.)

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