Rudy Labares, 66

One of the best ever in Philippine golf quietly passed away Tuesday last week. Only 66 years old, Rudolfo “Rudy” Labares succumbed to liver cancer.

I requested Atty. Jovi Neri, the former Cebu Country Club club champion and a dear friend of the Cebuano ace, to write a story about the man who called CCC his home. Here’s Atty. Neri’s full piece:

“Rudy Labares was voted one of the top 10 all-time greatest Filipino golfers in a poll conducted five years ago and rightfully so. Locally, in the 1980s, he set a Philippine Tour record of 7 wins in one season, which at that time surpassed Frankie Minoza’s 6 wins.

“Another record he still owns is the tournament record in relation to par in the Philippine Open where he shot 16-under par in Villamor Golf Club in his 1984 win. At age 46, he was the oldest player in the modern era to win the Philippine Tour order of merit crown in 1991.

“His international achievements are legendary. He led the Philippines to its best-ever finish of 2nd place in the World Cup of Golf in 1977, finished second to the Seve Ballesteros-led Spain. He also finished second in the individual honors to all-time great Gary Player – one of only five players to win all four professional majors.

“Labares’ most cherished win was the Rolex Masters Singapore, which at that time was one of the majors in the Asian Tour. Since he was the Order of Merit leader in the local tour even in his 40’s, he was chosen twice to the Philippine team to play in the Dunhill Cup in the home of golf in St. Andrews Scotland.

“Against Spain, he was pitted against two-time Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal. Against USA, he played Chip Beck, who was only the second player even in PGA Tour history to card a 59.

“Labares was a soft-spoken individual who quietly went about his business with little fanfare. This may be the reason why, in spite of his achievements in a career where he competed against the likes of Celestino Tugot… then Ben Arda… then Frankie Minoza… and even against some of the current crop of pros still active like Carito Villaroman and Cassius Casas, he has relatively slipped under the radar when the all-time greats of the Philippines are mentioned. But his accomplishments on the golf course are right up there, and even better, than some who are more highly-regarded or oft-mentioned.

“Throughout his career, Labares has always called Cebu Country Club his home and never permanently settled outside Cebu. He has always practiced and worked on his game in Cebu. It is for this reason, he should be easily regarded as one of the best Cebuano professional athletes of all-time.”

Thanks to Jovi for the mini-biography on Labares. A full-length chronicle will be published soon in Jovi’s column with the Inquirer Monthly Golf magazine.

NIMROD. Another golf devotee I contacted was Nimrod Quiñones, the Managing Editor of The Freeman. I owe Nimrod a lot. He was the person who invited me to write a sports column. This was in 1994.

Nimrod interviewed Mr. Labares last month. In his Full Point column for The Freeman dated July 14 and titled “A chat with a living legend,” Nimrod wrote: “I had the chance to talk with the living legend yesterday at the Cebu Country Club in connection with Full Point: The Cebu Sports Show, which airs over Wealth TV Channel 28 on SkyCable and Destiny Cable.”

Added Nimrod: “(Rudy) started as a ball boy at the age of 10 and five years later became a caddie. In another five years, Labares, who spent a lot of time honing his skills, was already competing and winning tournaments. One thing that struck me during our interview was when he said that he used to practice from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Many of us can’t even spend an hour on the driving range and hope to finish playing as fast as we could, but not Rudy.”

The Rudy Labares TV interview will be aired possibly later this week, said Nimrod. I’m sure this will be a stirring and poignant interview. Let’s watch it.

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