Category Archives: Cebu Country Club

Junia Gabasa and Weiwei Gao

While Sergio Garcia donned his first green jacket at Augusta last Sunday, two teenagers also scored the lowest numbers to win at the Cebu Country Club.

Junia Gabasa won the women’s crown in the 2nd MVPSF Visayas Regional Match Play Championships exactly one week ago. On the men’s side, it was Weiwei Gao, a national team member, who defeated Rolando Pila. Weiwei’s win was similar to the Spaniard Garcia’s victory at The Masters. After 36 holes of match play competition, the 17-year-old Weiwei needed to play an extra playoff hole where he sank a 12-foot birdie putt for victory.

“I have known Weiwei since he was a small boy,” said Nimrod Quiñones, a sportsman and golfer and my mentor in writing as he was the one who invited me into sportswriting over two decades ago. “One thing that I can say about Weiwei is that his success is anchored on the dedication of his parents Shiyu (Jeffrey) and Shelley.”

Shiyu, added Nimrod, is very passionate about his how his children — Weiwei, Weiyu, and Weifang  — developed as golfers. He engaged in a lot of research and invested on proper training and coaching to help them attain their dreams.

“Weiwei as a person is very mild-mannered and is passionate about the game,” Nimrod added. “I have seen him cry in frustration and when he wins, he always remains humble. I have seen how he blasts his drives and make shots I can only imagine, but then despite all the hard work he is putting in his golf game, there is one thing that is also stoking the fire — his love for golf.”

Junia Gabasa — the top seed of the tournament and the younger sister of one of Cebu’s best golfers, Irina — had an easier time winning the women’s title. Only 15 years old and studying at Bright Academy as a Grade 9 student, she defeated Manila player Kristine Torralba after 31 holes.

“It was a very good win after her recovery from an injury last year,” said Deo Gabasa, the dad of Junia. “The golf course was in a very tough wet condition.”

Junia’s next event is right after Holy Week at the Phil. Junior Amateur Open, slated from April 18 to 21. The field will be tough because Junia will compete against the country’s top junior amateurs and there will be foreign competitors, including strong players from Korea. Junia is hoping for a Top 5 (or better) finish.

“Because of her injury for half of last year,” Mr. Gabasa said, “Junia was not able to travel to the U.S. for summer tournaments. She was, however, part of the Phil. team that finished third place in the junior girls division for the 2016 Southeast Asian Amateur Golf Team Championship in Singapore.”

Junia’s goal later this season is to fly to the U.S. and to play the American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) Open tournaments and to join one or two Invitationals. Added her dad Deo: “In order to experience playing with the top players there, Junia is considering joining the U.S. Women’s Open Qualifier.”

Coral Tee and a rainful of blessings

Cebu Country Club hosts dozens of tournaments each year; but nothing compares to the Coral Tee — a member-guest invitational held every Sinulog week (Wednesday to Saturday) that’s now on its 36th year.

Atty. Jovi Neri, one of CCC’s top golfers, said that the 36th Coral Invitational, next to Manila Golf’s Golden Tee, is the second oldest member-guest invitational in the country.

But last week may have been one of the most challenging.

“While we assumed that we would have a wet Coral Tee as early as two months ago, we did not expect it to be this wet,” said CCC board director and golf chairman Julius “Jayjay” Neri, Jr. “We were very nervous on opening day (Wednesday) as it was raining most of the morning. Thursday had the least rain and gave us hope that conditions would improve.”

After the 430 participants completed the first two days, it poured heavily again on Friday and the forecast on Saturday was more rain.

“It was crucial that the tournament would not be stopped due to the weather or the Calcutta bets as well as the ‘Palusotan’ would have to be cancelled because these were based on the 2nd day scores,” said Jayjay. “And half of the field were playing on that rainy Saturday.”

To make things more problematic, there was no mobile signal. “I got to the club at 9:30 a.m. and did not leave until after the awarding ceremony,” said Jayjay. “Twice on Saturday morning, I was on the verge of declaring the course unplayable. But just as I was about to do so, the rain would slow down.”

Jayjay Neri, who is also the general manager of SunStar, considers being able to finish the 36th Coral Tee despite the torrential rain (and having no major accidents apart from a few who slipped due to the muddy conditions) as a major blessing.

Talking of blessing, two others received major surprises. The first was Rolando Casing of Cagayan de Oro. Last Friday on the 3rd hole of CCC, he used a 7 Iron Titleist 762 club and swung. The ball flew high above the Banilad trees, bounced on the green, rolled and disappeared for a hole in one. Witnessing the rare occurence were Richard Hong, Benedict Uy and Hisashi Miyashita. As reward, Mr. Casing took home a Jeep Wrangler. 

Another blessing happened to my good friend Alvin Alazas, a former CCC club champion. At the conclusion of the Coral Tee, the most awaited moment is the grand raffle.

“In the past, I always bought the tickets numbered 118 and 318,” said Alvin, in our phone conversation yesterday. “The number 118 is my civil wedding date (Jan. 18) and 318 is our church wedding date (March 18).”

But as fate would have it, these numbers were taken. Alvin had to choose another raffle number and picked “018.”

“The first number called was ‘0,’” he said. “In our table were Jiji Gullas, Manolet Heredia, Hector Almario, Armando Serafin and Peter Mancao. We have one ticket, they said, referring to our consortium (we bought tickets as a group). When the next number ‘1’ was called, the others, said, sorry, we didn’t win.”

It turns out, Alvin bought his own ticket. Finally, when the number “8” was called and Alvin’s name was announced, all his friends jumped.

“It was exactly 25 years ago that I first joined Coral Tee,” said Alvin. “That was in 1992 and I’ll never forget that tournament because the first day was my wedding day!”

Tomorrow, Alvin and Mimi celebrate their silver anniversary.  And as gift, a brandnew 3.6-liter V6 Jeep Wrangler.

Cebuano golf ace Chuck Hong is the champ

Imagine your daily job to be this: You walk amidst tall pine trees, smell the pink roses that circle the pond, stroll on green natural carpet as the blue skies and white clouds dance above; you inhale fresh wind, smile, appreciating God’s beauty as you hear the birds chirp while you chip.

Ahhh… the day in the life of professional golfer Charles “Chuck” Hong.

This scenery was made more perfect last weekend when the Cebuano ace aced a giant tournament: the ICTSI Sherwood Hills Classic at the Sherwood Hills Golf Club in Cavite.

Firing a four-under 68 in the final day last Saturday, Chuck wound up with a 12-under 276 total to emerge victorious in a strong field that included international pros. “I feel great,” Chuck said. “When the 2nd victory was coming or whether it was coming at all was always on my mind.”

spo2_zpse1ed8c52Charles with ICTSI PR head Narlene Soriano and Sherwood GC manager Shin Paul Chan (Photo: The Phil. Star)

Hong’s first professional victory happened in September of 2012 when he won the Pueblo de Oro Championship in Cagayan de Oro City. That was nearly 20 months ago. Then, Chuck pocketed P200,000 for the first prize. Last weekend, it was P650,000. “It’s all in the bank,” he said. “Just have to focus on the future and not spend on unnecessary things.”

Asked about the secret of his triumph — which elevated him to the No. 2 spot, behind Tony Lascuña, in the ICTSI Phil. Golf Tour Order of Merit ranking — he answered: “I’m a firm believer that there’s no substitute for hard-work. Of course, those 3 eagles on the 3rd day helped out a lot. I still think that it was just hard work. I increased my practice for the past 3 weeks after missing the cut in Baguio by 1 stroke. I guess that got me fired up.”

Hong, 25, is the golfing pride of the Cebu Country Club, where he first learned how to putt as a six-year-old. By the age of 12, he was winning most jungolf events and, at 15, he snatched 2nd place at a Phil.-Japan Friendship event. In college at DLSU, he emerged as “Collegiate Player of the Year.”

“My mindset was not to rest on my previous achievements,” he said. “Like my last win and Resorts World for the Asian Tour. It’s always easy to lean on those but I changed my mind on improving on them rather than sitting on them.”

Chuck is not all-golf, all the time. He swims and goes to the gym. He did yoga but said, “I find it a little boring although I know it’s good for my game.” He also follows the NBA but his favorite team (Lakers) is out. A diehard Bryant fan, he said, “Kobe does his own thing and doesn’t get affected by what people say about his game. In the end he proves his critics wrong, which is a trait I admire. You control your destiny not what others say.”

Now on his fourth year as a pro, Chuck is living a dream — playing golf for a living. But there are drawbacks. “I’m based in Manila. I’m away from family and some relationships have suffered because of the travel and time it takes away from my personal life. This will always be a negative. But the tremendous support I have from those people keep me going. And for that I am blessed.”

What’s next for this Tiger Woods fan, who continues to admire (“I like his swing and focus”) the world no. 1? He’ll join the PGT event at the Valley Golf and Country Club. But his ultimate dream is to qualify for the PGA Tour. But before that, it’s the Asian Tour and, he adds, “Now that the Order of Merit is in reach, I’d like to give that a go. It’d be nice to take that distinction away from Tony Lascuña since he’s had it for two years now.”

As for his final tip to golfers, here’s a good one from Champ Chuck: “Most people think that you need to focus 100% of the time out there, but my key is the opposite. It’s to keep yourself distracted at times; like, you don’t need to be thinking when you’re walking. But when it’s time to hit the ball, then you turn on your focus switch. Four hours can take its toll on the mind if you’re thinking about the results all the time. Just focus on the shot and accept whatever the outcome will be and walk forward unto the next one.”

In golf, the hero is Bayani


Bayani (far right) with his CCC teammates

Two Saturdays ago, the 2013 Club Championships of the Cebu Country Club was played. After a weeklong series of one-on-one contests (called “match play”) pitting winner against winner, one final winner emerged.

Though his family owns this newspaper (his dad, Atty. Jesus “Sonny” Garcia, Jr., is SunStar’s chairman), very few words were devoted to his victory.

Bayani Lopez Garcia is the 2013 CCC Club Champion. It’s his second trophy after winning the 2009 edition. “This one feels good,” Bayani said. “I proved to myself that the first club championship was not a fluke.”

Bayani’s path to victory included two excellent qualifying rounds (69-71) and never trailing in any of his matches during the knockout stages. (En route, the No. 2 seed also defeated Marco Mendoza, Kim Kwang Seok and, in the semis, Andre Borromeo.)

In the 36-hole, morning-and-afternoon finale against Lloyd Jefferson “LJ” Go last April 27, Bayani once again played near-flawless: grossing 4 under and being bogey-free in the first 27 holes. He credits his consistency to Coach Andrew Ong.

But as outstanding as Bayani’s performance was, LJ played well, too, in particular in the third 9 holes. “LJ played the lights out having back-to-back birdies on 2 and 3 as well as sticking his second shot on the 25th hole (hole 7) to a few inches for an easy eagle!” Bayani said. “From 4 down after 19 holes to being dead even after 28. That was one of the best 9-hole performances I have ever seen and to be able to pull it off under immense pressure was just remarkable.”

In the end, though, the more remarkable one was Bayani, who proved that experience still prevails over youth. The 27-year-old Bayani beat LJ, only 18, with a score: 1-up.

“I was actually not favored to win this match,” Bayani said. “Lj was the favorite since he was the top seed during the qualifying and he has been joining tournaments here and abroad. Also, because the finals is 36 holes and me tipping the scales well over 300 pounds, people thought I could not withstand the final.”

Of LJ, Bayani had this to say: “He is a phenomenal golfer with a very bright future ahead of him. Most importantly he is one of the kindest people I know. He is a very good friend with a big heart, very thoughtful and considerate, and a very jolly demeanor. He is the epitome of a true sportsman.”

The past two months — helping CCC win the 66th PAL Interclub Championship Division title in March and winning this individual trophy in April — have given Bayani a golf high. “It feels great! The two are the most important tournaments for me and to be able to win both is a feeling like no other!”

As to Bayani’s favorite player, his response was tiger-quick: Mr. Woods, the man he watched win the 2000 British Open Championships at St. Andrews. “Nobody in the sport has the mental toughness and drive,” said Bayani.

Finally, I asked Bayani why he loves the sport and what lessons he can impart to his fellow players.

“Golf is character-building,” Bayani said. “It is the only sport where your greatest adversary is yourself. It is how you deal with different uncontrollable situations that can decide on whether you win the tournament or not. It teaches you patience, perseverance, commitment, an,d most importantly, decision-making. It is a life teacher.

“Never give up on yourself. I know a lot of golfers that easily get discouraged because despite all the hours they spend on the course, they do not see an improvement in their game and handicaps. I always tell myself when I’m playing bad that things will always get better. I just have to weather out the storm and continue to practice in order to improve.

“Have fun and enjoy the game! Golf is not just about hitting balls to a target, making putts, and scoring well. It is a time where you can break free from the daily grind, have time for yourself at practice and enjoy the company of your friends during. It is about de-stressing and for 4 hours of your day, leaving your work and the daily grind behind.”

Pinoy Pride 18, Xterra Tri and the PAL Interclub

Is this week the biggest ever in Cebu sports? Yes. It started last week when the PAL Interclub tournament teed-off at the manicured lawns of Alta Vista. It continued with Day Two of the Seniors Division at the Club Filipino in Danao. That tournament invited 800 players nationwide to our Cebu shores. That’s golf.

Two mornings ago, we had one of the most sought-after races: the SM2SM Run. Over 4,000 pairs of running legs participated. Millions were spent by SM and thousands of pesos will go to charity. That’s running.

Tomorrow, the Championship Division of the PAL Interclub commences. Our Cebu Country Club team — Bayani, Andre, LJ, Marko, Gen, Jovi, Eric, Mark, Montito and Carl — will, on home turf and as a band of 10, attempt to repeat as champions. As I’ve written here last Sunday, the PAL Interclub is not only the biggest golf outing in our Philippine islands, it’s also 66 years rich in history and brings “golf tourism” to Cebu.

What else is happening? This Saturday, it’s the 18th edition of the Pinoy Pride Series and it’s dubbed “World Champion vs. World Champion.” That’s because Donnie Nietes, the Murcia, Negros-raised Cebuano is fighting Moises Fuentes of Mexico on March 2. It’s Nietes’ WBO (light flyweight) belt against Fuentes’ WBO (minimum weight) belt.

Having observed Nietes doing sparring seven afternoons ago at the ALA gym in Mandaue, I’m here to report the sad news for the Mexican contingent, including the visiting Marco Antonio Barrera: good luck, enjoy the battle while it lasts because you’re going to lose.

Donnie Nietes is in terrific shape. When we spoke in Ilonggo (while he was wrapping his knuckles with white tape), he knew the enormity of this moment: he’s not fighting in MOA Arena or anywhere else abroad, he’s fighting in our “mini Las Vegas” called the Waterfront Hotel.

“This event is historic,” said ALA Promotions President Michael Aldeguer. “For the first time in Cebu, two world champions will be fighting each other.”

Perfect. “Ahas” stars in the Year of the Snake. In the undercard, Genesis Servania, who is the WBO Asia-Pacific super bantamweight champion, will entertain the crowd. What’s outstanding about “Azukal,” as he’s nicknamed, is this: He won 19 times with six KOs and has never lost a bout. Jimrex “The Executioner” Jaca, carrying an impressive 36-win, 20-KO record, we’ll also watch. That’s boxing.

Is that all? Nope. One more: The Vaseline Xterra Off-Road Triathlon Championship Weekend. Now on its third year in Liloan, Cebu, this swim-bike-run event is different from the Ironman. Because while the IM70.3 is in Shangri-La’s Mactan Island Resort — and where bikers use Cervelo road bikes worth P700,000 and the runners are “spoiled,” running on smooth asphalt — in Xterra, it’s the opposite. It’s dirty. It’s rocky. It’s risky. It’s muddy.

Xterra uses the mountain-bike — and I tried the 17.5-km. route last weekend. Scary! Last year, I joined the Xterra Lite and found the bike route scenic. For this weekend — a completely different route but still in Liloan — it’s more technical and dangerous. You traverse through areas beside a cliff. After reaching the highest peak at 185 meters, you descend on a single-track, non-paved, sharp-rock-filled narrow road. Too many times, I went down my bike and walked. Not wanting to fall and get bloodied, in possibly 20 percent of the way, I walked.

Ken Salimbangon, Onek Priagula, Bernard Palermo joined the “elite” triathletes like Joseph Miller, Tenggoy Colmenares and Jomer Lim in trekking the mountainous terrain. The view from the top of Consolacion? Amazing. We took photos. We even stopped for a “buko break,” drinking fresh coconut milk and “carbo-loading” on buko meat. I love mountain-biking. I love maneuvering past the cobbled stones. I love the shaded, nature-filled route. This is Xterra — and it’s happening this Saturday and Sunday.

This week, our mantra is… Sports: It’s more fun in Cebu!

PAL Interclub: only one of its kind in the world

Jovi Neri, one of Cebu Country Club’s top golfers, described the 66th PAL Interclub this way: “The tournament is unique because it is the only one of its kind in the whole world. No interclub golf team tournament in the world has a history this rich or a field this big. It will feature almost 200 teams and over 1,500 golfers from all over the world — all coming to Cebu for two weeks, which boosts the city’s exposure, tourism and economy. It’s not only a showcase of the host courses, but for the whole Cebu. Golfers have been wanting to come back since we last hosted in 2002.”

For Jovi and his Cebu Country Club (CCC) teammates, the Interclub is special not just because they’re “playing for CCC,” but because they all grew up in CCC and have been on the Banilad greens since they were children. “There is a shared heritage among us,” he said. “CCC has been part of our lives the same way we have been part of it. That makes our team unique and not a lot of other teams can say the same.”

MARKO SARMIENTO. The reigning CCC men’s champion, Marko Sarmiento agrees, saying: “CCC treats this tournament different from the other participating clubs since this is the only team competition that we enter. Other Manila clubs have team tournaments like the Federation which is played all year round and the Fil-Am. For one week, we play as a team and our teammates rely heavily on each other to perform well. This is the main reason why the pressure from this event is unlike any other.”

The 66th PAL Interclub is classified under four divisions: Championship, Founders, Sportswriters, and Friendship. For the first time ever, Team CCC won the premier Championship division last year in Davao when it beat Del Monte Golf Club. Thus, the added pressure — especially because Cebu is hosting.

“The Men’s division will start on Wednesday and will be played on 2 courses: CCC and Mactan Island Golf & CC. Play in Mactan is instrumental since it’s a difficult course that not many have practiced in. What makes the course difficult are the conditions of play, especially the tricky greens,” said Marko.

Each team has 10 players. Except for Gio Gandionco, who is in the U.S. for golf scholarship, all nine players are returning.

Are we favored to win? Yes and no. “We’ll be favored since this partially in home turf,” said Atty. Neri. “In other sports, hosts depend on crowd support to give them home-court advantage but the courts are still all regulation size and length. In golf, all courses are different so familiarity is really a playing advantage. However, CCC is only the venue for 2 of the 4 days, and the other 2 is in Mactan, which is neutral ground. So while observers call CCC as the favorites, rivals are just as strong, especially Del Monte and Alabang, which finished 2nd and 3rd last year.”

Gio’s replacement is my next-door neighbor, Andre Borromeo. Thrice a member of CCC’s Founders (champion) team, Andre qualified after a grueling 72 hole qualifier vs JJ Alvarez.

Top players? Says Marko, who’s joining his 12th PAL tournament: “We will again be led by our two young guns, Gen Nagai (2hdcp) and LJ Go (+1 hdcp: the only plus handicapper in CCC).”

NIMROD QUINOÑES. Over at the Alta Vista Golf and Country Club – which hosted the Seniors Division — I asked one of my closest friends, Nimrod Quiñones, to comment on the impact for Cebu.

“PAL Interclub is not just for the golf clubs. We have a total of 800 players for the seniors and another 800 for the men’s tournament for a total of 1,600. That is still excluding their companions. If a player spends just a minimum of P20,000 here while taking part in the tournament, that is P32 million that is pumped into the economy of Cebu.

“Since this is my 20th PAL Interclub playing various roles as sportswriter, photographer, thrice as participant, once as team captain, and several times playing in the media tournament, now as GM of a host club, I know that players spend so much more than P20,000 each.

This is sports tourism at its finest moment.”

Marko Sarmiento: CCC’s 2012 Champion

Marko and Bayani

We were schoolmates at Cebu International School. We share the same birthday. And, whenever I need golf analysis, I always e-mail the same person: Marko Garcia Sarmiento.

At the manicured lawns of the Cebu Country Club, few people can drive that ball farther. Averaging 290 yards off the tee, Marko, 34, started swinging clubs at the age of 10. By college, he decided to study the one course that specializes on the golf course: at North Carolina’s Methodist University, studying Business Management with a focus on Professional Golf Management.

“Marko has won every major CCC tournament except the most major one which was the club championship,” said Atty. Jovi Neri. “So it was always a goal that he wanted to win badly for a long time.”

Last week, the 2012 CCC Club Championship unfolded. Sixteen of CCC’s best participated. After the qualifying rounds, Mr. Sarmiento — with rounds of 74 and 71 — took the second-highest seed, just a stroke behind Mark Dy.

In the match-play format, Marko played Marco Mendoza in the first round. He won 6-up. In the quarterfinals, the opponent was the one man nobody wanted to face: Eric Deen. The “Dean of CCC Golf,” Eric was not only a 6-time CCC champion but he had won the last two years. In the only time that Marko and Eric played in a match-play format, Marko got clobbered, 5-down. “The match against Eric was the most nerve-wrecking,” admitted Marko. “He’s arguably the club’s best player and has been for many years.”

In the 18-hole contest, the battle started as expected, with Eric leading. Although Marko was playing well, he wasn’t putting well. But, as fate would have it, Eric bogeyed two of the last three holes while Marko parred. “I finally made my first meaningful putt and it couldn’t have come at a better time,” said Marko. “I had a 15-footer for par on the 19th hole and made it, while Eric missed his 10-footer.” Game, set, match. Marko wins.

Next up in the semi-finals: Gen Nagai. Both played well and, after hours on foot, with Marko scoring under par (gross) and Gen at even par — with most of the holes won by birdies — it was Sarmiento who edged Nagai, 2-up.

Now, after beating the 2011 Class B champ (Mendoza) in the first round, then the 6-time champ (Deen) in Round 2, and the CCC junior club winner (Nagai) in the semis, Marko had the face the 2009 champion, Bayani Garcia, in the 36-hole, early-morning-until-late-afternoon Saturday final.

It was a showdown between two of CCC’s longest hitters. The day before the finale, Marko asked for advice from his uncle, the CCC president and 8-time champ, Montito Garcia, who told him to stay close in scoring to Bayani in the morning (first 18 holes).

The good nephew followed his Tito Mon’s words, leading 3-up before lunch. But the morning was not without drama. “Before teeing up for my drive on the 8th hole, I realized that the shaft of my driver broke!” said Marko. “It was a freak accident since I hit a perfect drive the hole before and didn’t notice anything wrong with the club after I hit that shot. Nevertheless, I was rattled because my driver is my most important club. Thankfully, the rules of golf state that a replacement club can be used as long as the club was not broken with any intention. My wife hurried from the house to bring me my backup and order was restored.”

When played resumed on the 19th hole, Marko’s smile widened. He birdied to go 4-up. But then, Bayani improved while Marko’s game faltered. In the next three holes, Bayani won. From a 4-point advantage, it was down to one. By the end of the 27th hole, the match was all-squared. “Bayani had me rattled,” said Marko. “Losing a 4-up lead after 9 holes will do that to a golfer.”

On Hole No. 28, both made long putts for birdie. But on the 29th, there was a reversal of scores. Bayani birdied! For the first time, Bayani took the lead. Finally, with just three holes left to play, Bayani led 1-up.

That’s when — on the 34th hole — the steely nerves of the 34-year-old Marko emerged. He birdied Hole No. 34. The match was all-square. Then, when Bayani hooked his tee shot in the rough (which led to an unplayable lie and a one-stroke penalty) while Marko parred, it was Sarmiento with the lead.

“We both hit perfect tee shots,” said Marko, of the 36th and final hole. “Bayani was 1st to hit and calmly hit the green and left himself a lengthy but makeable putt for birdie. All I wanted to do was par the hole and force Bayani to make his birdie putt. I was able to find the green in 2 but still had about a 30-footer for birdie, which under pressure, could have easily led to a 3-putt bogey. I was first to putt and making it was the last thing in my mind since a par would have pressured Bayani in making a difficult putt for birdie.”

What happened on that 18th green will be talked-about for years…

“The golf gods were with me that day,” continued Marko, “and there was nothing they owed me but in what was easily the best golf feeling I have ever experienced; the putt went in and the match was over! Absolutely amazing. My family was there to witness it with me which just made for a perfect ending to a epic day of golf!”

When I asked Marko — the ever-smiling husband of Aimil Gonzalez and the proud father of two boys: Lucas, 7, and Andres, 2 — if the achievement of seeing his name etched in CCC’s hall of champions has sunk in, he said: “I can’t even describe it. I see that wall every time I’m in the club and I always wondered when I would win it. In the past I felt like it was owed to me but this time around my expectations were much lower. I would tell myself that my time would eventually come and honestly this is when I expected it the least.”

What’s ironic is this: Just a month ago, Marko was playing his worst golf in years. “My handicap jumped from 3-5 in the month of October and I was struggling to break 80,” he said. But then, don’t our greatest moments often come when we least expect them? Same with Marko. After that slump, his game rebounded, with him scoring the lowest gross title (69) in the Tomodachi Tournament. “My expectations were low and my confidence was high,” he said. “I think this is deadly combination to winning!”

Atty. Jovi Neri concurs. Marko traveled a lot this year, he said, which compromised his game. But then, help arrived. Marko’s swing coach, Andrew Ong (who also works with his PAL teammates Lj Go, Gen, Jovi and Bayani), arrived in Cebu together with Eric Gozo, who operates Flightscope, a super high-tech ball-flight tracking radar and launch monitor.

“Working with these two US-trained professionals, Marko was able to fix his swing and knew exactly how it affected his ball flight since there was accurate measured data determined by the Flightscope,” said Atty. Neri. Congratulations, Marko!

Father and son: Efren and The Champ

Cebu’s golfing pride: Chuck Hong

Photo from Nimrod Quiñones at FullPointCebu

Thanks to the text message of six-time Cebu Country Club champion Eric Deen, I got to learn about the astounding achievement of a fellow Cebuano.

Charles “Chuck” Hong (said Atty. Jovi Neri: he now prefers to be called ‘Chuck’ instead of ‘Chuckie’) placed 3rd last Sunday in the PGM Sarawak Masters in Kuching, Malaysia.

The 24-year-old Chuck scored 71-69-76-69 for a three-under total of 285. For the 3rd place finish, he won $4,000. “I’m feeling very confident since it’s been three good weeks,” said Chuck. “And it’s also a bonus knowing that I have one W under my belt.”

The “W” means “win” and that victory — Chuck’s first since he turned pro — happened last month when he won the ICTSI Pueblo de Oro Championship in Cagayan de Oro City. In that CDO win, Chuck scored a remarkable seven-under 65 in the final day then defeated Richard Sinfuego in the playoff.

“After my victory in Cagayan, I felt both confident and anxious,” he said. “Confident because I proved to myself that I have what it takes and anxious since I don’t know what my game would be coming from a win. My good finishes in Davao (8th place) and Sarawak proved that it wasn’t just a lucky week. I’m really playing well.”

Playing well he is! Since turning pro, look at the accomplishments of Engr. Hong (yes, he’s a licensed Civil Engineer): For 2011, 4th place finish, PGT Wack-Wack. For 2012, 5th place PGT Splendido; 6th place PGT Sherwood Hills; 7th place PGT Eastridge; Winner, PGT Pueblo De Oro; 8th place PGT Palos Verdes; 11th place ADT Johor, Malaysia; 3rd place ADT Sarawak Masters, Malaysia.

“Chuck has dispelled any notions of a sophomore jinx,” said Jovi Neri, the chieftain of CCC’s jungolf program. “His win in Pueblo makes him the first product of the CCC Junior Golf Program to win professionally.”

I asked Chuck if he expected to play this well this soon. “I don’t make any predictions but if I did, I wouldn’t have predicted this much success this early on. I knew I was improving on a daily basis and that alone would make me happy, but that win was a nice bonus. I dream about things like this, and it’s nice to see it materialize.”

Chuck — whose ultimate dream is to play in the PGA Tour — attributes two reasons for his success: patience and support. “There have been a lot of struggles this year but I kept patient and didn’t let it affect me,” he said. “I look at the success of our other pros and turn that into my motivation. I also have a great support system: my sponsor (ICTSI), friends, coach, girlfriend, family. They support me 100% and its reassuring knowing you have all those people behind you.”

His idol? Tiger Woods. “Always was and still is. I can’t explain why since I don’t particularly like his swing or off-course habits, but he’s just a joy to watch. The things he does are amazing.”

Commenting on this pressure-packed game, Chuck said: “Golf is all mental. You could have the best swing in the world and it wouldn’t matter one bit if you didn’t have the mental toughness. At the end of every tournament, the camera doesn’t decide who wins or not. It’s the scoreboard, and there are no pictures in the scoreboard. Pressure situations are inevitable. No matter how much you try to stay away from them, you will have to face it. It’s easy to say not to think about pressure situations, but it’s hard to do it. I love pressure situations. I believe that if you are not in a pressure situation, you are not in contention. I always look for pressure because it means I’m up in the leaderboard and I have a chance to win.”

On the Ryder Cup: “That’s golf; there are no guarantees. It ain’t finished until that very last putt. I just captained the South Team in this year’s ‘The Duel’ and we were down 2 points going into the last day. I told my team that “we are still here, we wouldn’t be playing today if we didn’t have a chance” and after that day, we almost swept the other team to win the cup.”

This 2012, Chuck will join three local and three international tournaments. Next year, his goal is the Asian Tour Qualifying School. “That would be a big step,” he said, “because qualifying there would give me a card to play for the main tour – Asian Tour.”

Marko and Jovi on CCC’s Club Championships

Moments after the winning putt, Eric Deen is congratulated by Montito Garcia

Whenever I need help with golf, I turn to two friends who are not only Class-A golfers but also skillful writers: Marko Sarmiento and Atty. Jovi Neri.

Last Saturday, I missed watching Eric Deen sink that birdie putt on the 37th hole to win the Club Championships of the Cebu Country Club. Thanks to Marko and Jovi, here’s an excellent report of last week…

“To no surprise, the top seeds after qualifying were LJ Go and Gio Gandionco, respectively,” wrote Marko. “They both shot a 2 day aggregate score of 2 under par (140). No one was surprised since the two have been playing well all year. They were our heroes of the PAL Interclub in Feb.”

Jovi concurred: “Lj and Gio are not just among the country’s top juniors but among the top five Filipino amateur golfers today.” But, guess what? For the first time, the top two seeds lost.

“Ever since CCC expanded the qualifying to be 16 players 11 years ago,” said Jovi, “this was the first time ever that a #1 seed lost to #16. I was also fortunate to beat the #2 seed Gio even though I was #15. In match play anything can happen, and it isn’t always the better man that wins, but the one having the better game.”

Marko Sarmiento, the 16th seed, upset LJ Go, 3 and 1, while Jovi beat Gio, 3 and 2. Said Marko: “It was my most satisfying win since beating Gene Aznar to reach the finals back in 2001. Lj didn’t play his best but still put up a tough match as I played near perfect golf. Jovi and I both struggled in qualifying, but the beauty of match play is anything can happen.”

Jovi credits the depth of talent in his club where, on any sunny day, anyone can beat anyone. He added that while the “young ones” were the stars in CCC’s PAL Interclub win, it was the “once young” who emerged winners last week.

In the quarterfinals, Jovi and Marko lost. “The high was short-lived,” said Marko. “I lost to Kiyofumi Takahashi 1 down and Jovi lost to Gen Nagai 2 down. Kiyo then lost to Eric in the semifinals and Gen lost to Mon.”

The finals? Last Saturday between eight-time winner Montito Garcia (1991 to 1995, 2003, 2007 and 2009) versus five-time champ Eric Deen (1997 to ’99, 2004 and last year).

Here’s Marko’s summary: “When you reach the final, it’s more a battle of attrition than anything. It’s a 36-hole match with no golf carts allowed. Leading to the finals you play 5 out 7 days. Under the summer heat, it gets exhausting. The level of play goes down because of fatigue and in match play you match up directly against your opponent. If your opponent double bogeys, all you have to do is bogey.

“Mon told me that he was around 2 or 3 over after the first 18 holes which left him 3 up. Eric got off to a shaky first 9 but didn’t leave himself too far back. On the 2nd 18, fatigue was getting the better of them. Pars and bogeys were winning holes. Eric cut Mon’s lead to 1 after 27 holes.

“In the back 9, Eric seemed rejuvenated while Mon started to fade. Mon relied on his hot putting all week but couldn’t get one to drop in the final 9 holes. Eric built a 2 up lead with 2 holes to go.

“Closing a match is always the hardest part of match play, similar to holding on to your serve to win a match in tennis. Eric bogeyed the last 2 holes vs Mon’s pars to send the match to sudden death.

“After 8 hours of golf, they were back to even and headed for the 1st hole. Both hit perfect drives and good second shots. Mon left himself a 12-footer for birdie while Eric had a 7-footer. Mon putted first and barely missed but Eric made no mistake and birdied to win!

“The first birdie between either of them from the last 18 holes of play. Pretty amazing considering the number of birdies that were made leading up to the final.”

Footnote from Atty. Neri: “The teenager who reached the furthest was 15-year Gen Nagai, who made the semis but lost to Montito. The next day, he joined Casino Español’s Copa De Golf and shot a personal best 7-under par 65 with 8 birdies against 1 bogey! His gross score was good enough to beat the net scores of everyone!”

CCC stands for ‘Country’s Club Champions’

Atty. Jovi Neri calls the Philippine Airlines (PAL) Interclub event that finished last weekend, “The biggest and most prestigious golf team tournament with a 65-year history and around 800 players joining.”

Cebu Country Club emerged victorious last weekend at the Apo Golf Club in Davao City. “Simply put,” explained Neri, “CCC has the best golf team in the country.”

Jovi has been part of the CCC squad since 2003. The past 10 years, they’ve won the Founders’ Division seven times. “We stuck with the same core team while others disbanded because their players turned professional. This moved us up to the Championship Division where we were 2nd last year in our first crack losing to the home team. Finally, this year and on neutral ground, we won.”

As head of the CCC Jungolf program, Neri is all-smiles. “I have received numerous congratulatory texts commending me on a job well done with the junior program because our top scorers were the juniors – Lj Go, Gen Nagai and Gio Gandionco. But I also want to put it on record that I, too, am a player and have a little game myself (hahaha!). Also, guys on the team such as myself, Mark Dy, and Marko Sarmiento come from an older generation of junior golfers and credit should go to the leaders of that era too – Vicky Moraza and Reny Sarmiento.”

Credit, of course, goes to all the team members. These include CCC president Montito Garcia, Eric Deen, Carl Almario and Bayani Garcia.

“The past winners of the PAL Interclub were ‘hired guns,’” said Neri. “Meaning provincial players recruited by Luzon courses to receive monthly allowances and playing privileges on the condition that they will represent their team in the PAL. With our win, we have shown that home-grown players who have a common origin in the junior golf program and have a genuine affiliation with our club rooted from childhood can win. This will not only inspire our team but others as well. Alta Vista and Alabang are among those fielding junior golfers.”

One of the secrets shared by Neri? Let the kids be kids and not give them unnecessary restrictions.

“Two days before we left for Davao, Lj, Gio, and Gen played badminton. During the tournament, we were hosted to a dinner in a house with a spacious lawn and the kids played volleyball and soccer. I don’t subscribe to some who say that other sports are bad for golf. The more active the lifestyle, the more athletic the player… that can only be good for golf. The kids also hit the gym regularly.”

Gio Gandionco, 16, the son of proud parents Opep and Cora, was the final player on the last day. On the 18th hole, he drained a six-foot birdie putt to score an impressive two-over-par 74 (34 points).

“Yes I was a little nervous,” said Gio, who’ll soon move to the U.S. on a college scholarship. “Being the last player has so much pressure, especially on the last hole when everyone is watching your every move. But, I thought, after all the experience I’ve been through, I can handle the pressure. Sinking my birdie putt on the last hole felt great. Even though that putt had not much bearing, I wanted to finish it with a birdie to prove that despite the pressure, I can make it.”

On pressure, Gio adds these tips: “I try to stay calm and breathe. Just take deep breaths, think positive and stay in the present. I try not to think too much and just go over my routine. The only thing in my head is imagining myself hitting the best shot and seeing the ball go where I want it to go.”

Next year? The PAL Interclub will fly back to Cebu. Our last hosting was back in 2001. “This will be a joint exercise with all four clubs – CCC, Club Filipino, Alta Vista and Mactan,” said Neri. “Two clubs will host the seniors event the week before and, the other two, the regular event. We are privileged to have a captain like Montito Garcia who has friends all over, so whenever we travel there are people always inviting us out. Now that we will be hosting it, we look forward to giving back the hospitality. As a team, this win will motivate us to practice earlier and harder than ever.”

Golf and LJ Go

Golf is difficult. Look at Tiger Woods. His knee is damaged, he’s world-ranked a lowly 49, his last title was 22 months ago and, at last month’s PGA Championships, he shot a 7-over 77. TW missed the cut.

LJ Go? He’s a cut above the rest. Spelled in full, his name is Lloyd Jefferson Go. You’d know he excels in one sport just by studying the initials of his name:

GO, LJ. G-O L-F. The two are nearly identical. It’s no coincidence that this 16-year-old Cebu Country Club (CCC) resident is one of the country’s most promising golfers.

Last Thursday, Atty. Jovi Neri chronicled LJ’s spectacular 2011 season. Many experts, including Jovi, the head of the CCC Jungolf Program and a former CCC champion, consider LJ “as the most talented junior to emerge from Cebu Country Club.” Possibly, ever. Among LJ’s records: two junior championships, twice shooting the junior competitive course record of 69, a men’s club championship top seeding, and twice top-scoring for the men’s PAL team.

Here’s more… Last summer, after a string of successful tournaments in the U.S., LJ returned to Cebu all-confident. In Club Filipino’s President’s Cup, he shot a 68 and went home to his parents, Charlie and Lily, carrying the trophy. Next, he led his team to the overall crown of the Cheling Garcia Memorial.

“LJ’s impressive performance in America earned him the attention of NGAP (National Golf Association of the Phils.) director Tommy Manotoc, a legendary sportsman in his own right,” said Jovi Neri. “Manotoc personally selected LJ to play for the Philippine Men’s Team in the Putra Cup when Marcel Puyat had to beg off as he was entering Stanford under a scholarship.”

The 51-year-old Putra Cup is the Southeast Asia Amateur Golf Team Championship. “LJ was a 16-year-old junior playing for the Men’s Team in an international team event,” said Jovi. “No one can remember the last time a Cebuano was in the men’s team, definitely not in the last two decades and not as young as him.”

LJ also joined the Taiwan Men’s Amateur and came within a stroke of being the best Filipino campaigner. The Putra Cup, which finished weeks ago in Hong Kong? “His third round 70 was the best by any Filipino and his total was 2nd best among eight Filipinos – men’s and juniors – who played the course from the same tees,” said Atty. Neri.

What’s amazing is this: He is a national-caliber virtuoso who has chosen to stay sa probinsya. “LJ’s teammates in the men’s team have all come from national training programs funded by ICTSI,” said Neri. “LJ has never moved to Manila. He trains on his own in Cebu. His enjoyment of his student life in Cebu is the reason why he never traded it for home-schooling or transferring to Manila for training. He is an inspiration to young provincial kids who want to excel without leaving home.”

LJ first swung a 7-iron at the age of 7. He started under the tutelage of Raul Sorino, one of the instructors of the CCC Jungolf Program, then moved to his longest-serving mentor, Victor Macutay. Today, his coach is Andrew Ong.

A high school senior in Centre for International Education (CIE), LJ aspires to be a U.S. collegiate scholar. Adds Jovi: “Outside of the golf course, he lives an ordinary student life. But in the course, he is anything but ordinary. His exponential rise over the past few months—from a talented club junior golfer to a men’s national team top scorer—is nothing short of remarkable.”

How remarkable? Here’s a story supplied by Jovi Neri: “Last Sunday, I joined LJ’s flight with Gen Nagai, Gio Gandionco and Liloan Mayor Duke Frasco. In the front nine, he was out of his element hitting tops and shanks to find water on three straight holes. He even had a four-putt green and shot an ugly 8-over par 44.

“LJ picked it up in the back nine with five birdies and one eagle. He finished eagle-birdie-birdie, and won the September Junior Monthly Medal by count back (tie-break). His score (6-under par 30) is the lowest in nine holes I have ever witnessed in my 20 years of playing CCC.”

LJ Go’s breakout year, by Jovi Neri

“Many have said that Lloyd Jefferson ‘LJ’ Go is the most talented junior ever to emerge from Cebu Country Club,” said Atty. Jovi Neri, one of the most avid of Cebuano golfers and himself a columnist in the Inquirer Golf magazine.

Atty. Neri wrote a full-length chronicle of LJ’s phenomenal 2011 season. Here’s the rest of Jovi’s story….

“LJ’s achievements were spectacular in the club level: two junior championships, twice shooting the junior competitive course record of 69, a men’s club championship top seeding, and twice top-scoring for the men’s PAL team.

“But his results in the national level were not reflective of his talent until this year, when he emerged not just among the top juniors but as one of the top men’s amateur golfers who can compete internationally.

“During the summer he took in a new coach, Andrew Ong. This gave him renewed motivation which he channeled into increased drive and work ethic. As changes take a while for results to come, all it took LJ was an incredible round one April afternoon.

“Plodding along in the middle of the field in the Junior World qualifier in Manila Southwoods, LJ came out of nowhere to shoot a spectacular final round 72 to jump five places and steal the final slot for the Junior World Championships in San Diego via sudden death over Gus Mata.

“The next week, LJ got his first champion trophy in Luzon with a nail-biting win in the Faldo Series Phils. Championship in Tat Filipinas Golf Club. He then headed to play the Phil. Junior Amateur – a major championship for juniors.

“Playing in Alabang Country Club, he scored two major upsets – starting with home-course hero Basti Lorenzo, then pre-tournament favorite Miggy Yee. In the semis, he faced Junior World Champion Rupert Zaragosa and was on the cusp of victory, 1-up with two holes to play, but lost. Zaragosa went on to win the championship.

“The following week in the Philippine Men’s Amateur Match Play, LJ did not play as he was preparing for his US trip. The eventually winner was Zaragosa but two of the semifinalists were Mata, whom he beat in Southwoods, and Yee, whom he upset in Alabang.

“Now it was off to America where LJ competed in the AJGA (American Junior Golf Association), regarded as the PGA Tour of junior golf. LJ flew to the USA with no assured slot in any AJGA event. He would have to play qualifying rounds where up to 75 golfers compete for 3 slots. He had to endure a 14-hour trip to Los Angeles followed by an 8-hour drive to Phoenix to play his first qualifying.

“Defying all the odds, fatigue, and jet lag, LJ teed it up in Moon Valley Golf Club – the course where Annika Sorenstam shot her historic 59 – and earned the last spot in the tournament via playoff. LJ shot rounds of 78-75-78 in his first AJGA tournament — respectable and good enough to win junior tournaments locally.  But there, he found himself tied for 55th — or 3rd to the last. It was a rude awakening.

“When he could have easily given up, LJ continued to grind it out and earned spots to more AJGA events. After Arizona, he played events in Nevada and California.

“In the Junior World Championships in San Diego, LJ opened with a 74 in Torrey Pines South, a course that hosted the ‘08 US Open, which was Tiger Woods’ last major win. It was the best score turned in by a Filipino all week and the best score by a Cebuano ever in that tough course.

“In PGA West Stadium – a course where Nicklaus and other golf superstars had competed in past Skins Games – LJ was the only one who played under par through two rounds and finished in the top 5.

“His final tournament – the Emerson Junior Classic – turned out to be his best. He closed with a 3-under par 69, the best score of the final round which earned him a special recognition. He finished 3rd place and earned enough points to jump 1000 places and move within earshot of being among the top 200 juniors in America – not bad considering he is a non-resident rookie playing limited events in his first season.”

Aboitiz Golf: The winner is Cebu Country Club

Yesterday was Bobby Aboitiz’s birthday. Instead of a text message, I was able to greet him in person, while walking and observing the land’s best golfers. In the tournament named after his family name, Bobby watched. So did his brother, Jon Ramon. Both strolled, clapped, moved aside when a Ping! sounded from the tee mound.

BAYRON. Last Tuesday, two days before the Aboitiz Invitational started, Atty. Jovi Neri approached many of the professionals and asked their prediction for the winning score. Some said 5-under-par. Others said 2-under. A few answered: 8-under. Only one person had the audacity to declare that the winning score would be 12-under.

His name: Jay Bayron. In the end, we know that Jay did not score anywhere near that number but, according to Atty. Neri, it proves the confidence of Mr. Bayron.

What confidence yesterday! He birdied four of the last six holes. At No. 16, after he sank a long putt for another birdie, he smiled a smile that beamed as wide as the fairway. “He’s in the groove,” said Bobby Aboitiz.

Wearing all black—pants, cap and shirt—compared to the pink trousers of Elmer Salvador and the bright blue striped T-shirt of Jonathan Moore (who was a former teammate of Rickie Fowler), there was nothing dark black about his game.

Reliving last year’s winning walk during the 2010 edition of the Aboitiz Invitational, he did the same yesterday. Teeing off at 8:20 a.m., as each hour passed and as every hole was scratched from his To-Do List, he chipped off the leader-board’s scores.

At exactly 12:40 p.m., surrounded by hundreds of CCC members, caddies, Aboitiz cap-wearing spectators, and one American (Moore) and a fellow Davaoeño (Salvador), he punched his final putt into the cup.

The crowd applauded. Handshakes ensued. Digital cameras were clicked. Jiggy Junior, whose Y101 voice reverberated from the loudspeakers, said: “He has done it again!”

Jay Bayron took off his black cap, bowed to the gallery at the CCC veranda, then smiled. Everyone smiled. Jay’s brother, Rufino, lifted his brother up on the air.

Then, the air sounded. Thunder roared. Dark, gray-black skies enveloped the greens. It was as if, by perfect timing, not only the crowds cheered—but the skies wanted to clap, too.

Finally, in a hard-to-believe moment, barely 10 minutes after Bayron’s winning putt, rained poured. There was no rain this entire week. The sun baked the visitors. Umbrellas were opened—not for water but for the sun. In contrast, the previous week, Cebu was drenched. Daily, it showered. But not this week. Until 10 minutes after The End.

What timing! Had Basti Lacson, who orchestrated this massive successful operation, also negotiated a direct line Upstairs for the impeccable timing?

Kudos to Aboitiz. Well done.

CCC. When I asked for a commentary from the golfer whose blast off the tee can outdistance most of the visiting pros (he averages over 300 yards), the reply of Marko Sarmiento was clear and loud: Cebu Country Club was the winner.

Puzzled, I asked why. Marko explained what Frederic Chiongbian, Clifford Celdran and Pres. Montito Garcia already know: Months back when the Asian Development Tour (ADT) officials visited for an inspection, they grumbled. This par-72 course is too easy. The scores are too low. Let’s make it difficult.

Difficult they did. Holes 7 and 11 were transformed from par-5s to par-4s. The fairways were squeezed narrower. Grass at the sides, grown taller. Most of all, the greens were cut so short that, in some holes, you can see a hint of brown—the soil.

The result? Possibly the most difficult CCC course since its founding in 1928. (Good thing, in the last two days, the greens were wet early in the morning. This moistened the putting grounds. If not, the same hard bounces in the first two days would have occurred.)

Marko’s correct. It was as if the U.S. Open were held in Cebu. Who’d have imagined that only one—Jay Bay’—will score below par?

The Cup of Golf and the Davis Cup

One is an international event while the other is an event between nations. They’re the same. One uses a white synthetic ball while the other, a yellow fuzzy ball. They’re the same.

The Aboitiz Invitational 2011 is the most prestigious golf event to land in Cebu. It’s happening today. Yesterday. Tomorrow. And Saturday.

The Davis Cup 2011 is the most illustrious tennis event to bounce in Cebu. It’s not happening yet. The dates are September 16 to 18.

Today happens to be the very first ‘BER day of the year—we’re SeptemBER 1—and the Davis Cup is only 15 days away.

Isn’t our island lucky? The four-day golf-fest now being played at Cebu Country Club could easily have been situated in Davao’s Apo Golf or Laguna’s Caliraya Springs or Manila’s Canlubang. But it’s here. Right across the “soon-to-open” Ciudad. Cebu is blessed. We, Cebuanos, are blessed. Same with the sport that’s being played in Flushing Meadows, New York. It’s called tennis.

The Davis Cup clash between the Philippines and Chinese Taipei could easily have been held at the Rizal Memorial courts in Manila or the Philippine Columbian Association (PCA) indoor facility. But, no. The venue is here. Like golf. It’s at the Plantation Bay Resort and Spa. The island… ah, Cebu. My point is this: Let’s watch!!

These twin tournaments just two weeks apart are the paramount sporting marvels of this Year of the Cat.

With the Aboitiz Invitational, I watched for nearly 60 minutes yesterday—thanks to the personal tour by Atty. Jovi Neri, a 4-handicapper whose best score in CCC is an astonishing 67. Jovi drove the golf cart of Clifford Celdran. We followed Elmer Salvador, whose 1-over final score was the best by noontime.

Chuckie Hong? Playing his first pro tournament on his Cebu home court, I watched him wear a REDGOLF cap and drive that first drive on Hole No. 10. A friend to all the caddies and local CCC boys, he received the loudest applause.

(Sun.Star photo)

Miguel Tabuena was impressive. Only 16 years old, the “Boy Wonder of Golf” flew in from Taiwan a couple of days ago. We shook hands. “The last time I played on this course,” said the 2010 Asian Games silver medalist, “was when I was only nine years old.” Mig shot a 2-over. I left at noon and, by then, the scores were high. One pro logged a 9-over.

The reason for the high scores: “The greens were very, very hard.” Those words were uttered by Miguel T., about the same age as our top guns named LJ Go and Gio Gandionco.

What I found unusual yesterday was that very few people watched. Entering CCC around 11:15 A.M., I expected to find difficulty parking. Only a dozen cars were parked. This is perplexing. Or, maybe not. Because while the distinguished and exalted of golfers are joining, there’s no Phil M. or TW1 or even a Keegan Bradley, the PGA Championship winner. Also, yesterday was a Wednesday—the first working day after a four-day-long weekend. Everybody’s busy; at work.

Still, I hope more people watch. Today. Tomorrow. Especially on the finale, on Saturday. Be you a golfer or a non-golfer, the perfect mix of blue skies with putting greens and multi-colored Asian and European and American golfers ought to make you visit the Country Club.

Back to the Davis Cup tennis: This is another not-to-be-missed contest. Our players are: Cecil Mamiit, previously ranked as high as world No. 72 and was the “sparring” (or make that “hitting”) partner of Maria Sharapova; there’s Treat Huey, world-ranked No. 71 in doubles; and two newcomers: Jeson Patrombon and Ruben Gonzales.

Chinese Taipei? Team Taiwan is led by Lu Yen-Hsun. Currently No. 82, he was once ranked as high as world No. 33. If he comes to Lapu-Lapu City… Oh, no… it will be tough. (Update: In his first round U.S. Open match yesterday, he lost to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4. This means he might come to Cebu!).

Davis Cup tickets, priced at only P200/day or P500 for three days, are now available at Chris Sports SM or Ayala. Get your DC tickets now.

Aboitiz Invitational goes International

Montito Garcia, the most celebrated amateur golfer of our island and the current president of the Cebu Country Club, had this to say in our phone conversation yesterday: “The Aboitiz Invitational is the biggest ever golf tournament that CCC has hosted. In terms of prize money (about P2,500,000), in the number of international players that are joining (80 golfers from the Asian Development Tour and 40 from the Philippine Golf Tour)… we’ve never experienced anything like this before.”

True. How about the golf course? Its condition given that rains have engulfed our island? “Cebu Country Club is ready,” Montito said. “Although there’s been too much rain the past weeks, that’s the beauty of golf. Everybody plays in the same conditions. And, with the high caliber of these international players, you can put them in a carabao course and they’ll still excel.”

Today, the celebration begins. It’s the Pro-Am Day of the Aboitiz Invitational 2011, when three amateurs mix with one professional in one flight. It’s a chance for an Atty. Jovi Neri to be in the same flight with pro Robert Pactolerin. Completing their foursome are Jovi’s dad, Atty. Julius Neri, and Mark Dy.

Today is an opportunity for Cebuanos to spend hours on the course with a pro; an occasion for the professional to do a relaxed practice round around CCC. Tomorrow, the combat begins. It’s the start of the four-day tournament. Will our top local, Artemio Murakami, make our nation proud by winning the Cebu leg?

Last week, Murakami was ranked No. 3 in the ADT money list. This ranking is important. The top three earners will get automatic spots in the Asian Tour. The bad news is, after last weekend’s Ballantine’s Taiwan Championship, Murakami has slipped to a No. 5 ranking. If he wins—or does well—starting tomorrow until Saturday here in Cebu, he can regain that Top 3 spot. But it will be tough. There are 126 players expected to join. A total of 19 countries are represented.

What makes this event so huge is this: The very first Philippine stop of the Asian Development Tour (ADT) is not in Manila. It’s not in Tagaytay. It’s not in Wack Wack or Valley Golf or Riviera. It’s in the City of Cebu. The 2011 schedule started last February in Bangladesh. Then it moved to various courses around Malaysia and Chinese Taipei. It’s 7th stop? On our Philippine archipelago?

The par-70 golf course located in Banilad. Par 70? Isn’t the CCC a Par 72 course? Yes and Yes. “The Par 70 will only be for the Aboitiz Invitational,” answered marathoner Frederic Chiongbian, the CCC golf chairman. “Two par 5 holes, number 7 and number 11, will be played as par 4’s during the tournament. After, the course will retain its par 72 rating.”

Starting last April, a lot of work has been done to improve the course. “We’re slowly re-doing some areas of the course (e.g. tee mounds, drainage, tree pruning, bunkers),” added Chiongbian.

To comply with ADT standards, the course is now more difficult: the fairways, narrower; the roughs, tougher; the greens, faster.

All credit goes to the Aboitiz family, whose Aboitiz Equity Ventures headquarters sits right beside Cebu Country Club. No doubt, this is one of the year’s most illustrious of sporting events.

In an email he sent me two nights ago, Basti Lacson, the lead advocate of this event representing Aboitiz, acknowledges the importance of the partnership between ADT, the PGT, sponsor ICTSI and Aboitiz Equity Ventures.

Basti also named four Pinoys—Murakami, Elmer Salvador, Juvic Pagunsan and Miguel Tabuena—as contenders to win the $11,000 first prize.

As to the general public? Let’s watch! “The course is open for the public to watch, starting tomorrow until Saturday, Sept. 3,” said Basti Lacson.

Added Montito Garcia: “We are not charging anything. This is a great opportunity to see some of the best in Asia. And, who knows, a few of these stars will next join the European and U.S. Tours and become Top 10 world-ranked players. It’s our chance to watch them. Right here in Cebu.”

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.

Eric Deen wins his 5th Cebu Country Club title

Eric with his dad, Danny

The golf champion from 1997 to 1999 and, again, in 2004, it’s been many summers since he last won the Club Championship trophy of the Cebu Country Club.

Yesterday, playing another former titlist — Jovi Neri, who won the 2001 edition — he finally won again after playing 18 holes in the morning and 17 holes in the afternoon.

“That was tiresome!” said Eric Deen, seconds after receiving a congratulatory hug from his family members that included his dad (and former club champion) Atty. Danny Deen, and his sisters Jackie Lotzof and Vanessa Deen.

Jackie, Danny, Eric, Vanessa and James

It was Eric’s fifth Men’s Club Championship victory. Dating back to 1965 when Luis Ugarte won one of Cebu’s most revered of amateur golf titles, Eric’s Victory No. 5 elevates him to second in the all-time winners list: he and Carl Almario have five apiece while Montito Garcia — the new CCC president — has eight trophies.

Yesterday afternoon, thanks to Charlie Michael, who helped drive the golf cart, I was able to watch the back nine starting with Hole No. 13. At that point, Eric was leading 1-up and, after Jovi landed in the sand trap after his second shot, it was Eric who won that hole and led, 2-up, with five holes to go.

Eric and Jovi, from Holes 14 to 17, were both steady. They parred each hole. The crucial moment came in Hole # 14 when, after his tee shot, Eric drove left and landed far from the green. He was under a shade of trees. But, the ultra-relaxed player that he is (you’d never know, from watching, that he was in the final of a major tournament), Eric punched his second shot as the ball flew, hit a few branch leaves, then safely landed on the green. Par.

This 2011 (though the CCC Club championship, oddly, is called the 2010 edition), Eric Deen had no par. He was unbeatable. In his first round, he bested Macky Michael (my best friend on the tennis court), 5 and 4. In Round 2, he beat Jon Joseph Alvarez, 4 and 2. Then, in probably the most thrilling of all the week’s encounters, Mark Dy led Eric Deen in the semi-finals one-up with two holes to play. Sadly for Mark, he bogeyed the final two holes and lost, 1-up. At 4:30 p.m. yesterday on Hole # 17, Eric received a resounding applause when he won 2 and 1 against Jovi.

Bayani Garcia, Vicky Moraza and The Champ

In the Class B division, Evans Tumaliwan won after beating Kiddy Limchao, Jr., 1-up. In the Class C category (perfect because of the way his family name sounds), it was champion Andrew Si. He beat Henry Dy. In the Class D, it was Naotsugu Isobe besting Rhoudie Tiu. The CCC Senior champion was Koichi Horii. And, on the opposite end, the Women’s Champion was Abby Olea.