Category Archives: Golf

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.”

Garcia on Garcia

Paco Jarque won The Masters. If you’ve ever met the new president of the Casino Español de Cebu, Paco Jarque looks like Sergio Garcia. What a victory for the Español! I watched highlights of last Sunday’s final round and it was a heart-stomping, rollercoaster battle.

I asked the best Garcia golfer in Cebu to comment on the best Garcia golfer on the planet.

Bayani Garcia said: “Everybody in the golfing circles agree that before this win, he was undoubtedly the best player to have never won a major championship.”

That’s true. Now 37, Sergio turned pro in 1999 and spent the last 18 years attempting to win a major.

“When he first burst in the scene with his unforgettable duel against Tiger Woods during the 1999 PGA Championship at Medinah, people were predicting that this was the person who could go toe to toe against Tiger and perhaps become the next best thing in golf,” said the Cebuano Garcia, Bayani. “He had the charm, charisma and no doubt the game to do so.”

Sergio Garcia finally succeeded on his 74th major start. And it couldn’t have happened on a more symbolic day. Last Sunday, April 9, the great Seve Ballesteros, whom Garcia idolized, passed away nearly six years ago of brain cancer and would have turned 60.

“Over the next few years, he (Sergio) wasn’t the ‘bright star’ that everyone expected of him,” Bayani Garcia added. “Yes, he won a few tournaments, including the so-called ‘5th major,’ the Players Championship. Often times he would be in contention in regular tour events and in majors. In my opinion, he did not succeed in ‘closing’ the wins because as the years went by, doubt and uncertainty crept in. The self-doubt of not being to win a major championship got stronger and it messed up his psyche.”

He almost did not win again two days ago. After leading in Days 2 and 3, when the final day started, Sergio established a two-shot lead over his Ryder Cup teammate, Justin Rose. But midway through the day, that advantage evaporated. Heading into the last five holes, it was Rose who led by two. But armed with a serene mind (“I felt much calmer than I felt on any major championship Sunday,” he later admitted), Sergio inched closer until he tied Rose, missed a for-the-win 7-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole; he regrouped as Rose faltered on the first playoff hole.

“I have always believed that Sergio is one of the greatest ball strikers of all time, even better than Tiger. Sergio has always been a streaky putter and that’s why he hasn’t racked up as many wins and majors,” Bayani Garcia said. “Hopefully now that will change after this win. He has validated himself as being one of the best and has gotten that wicked monkey off his back. He is riding on a confidence high. Things are going great in his life on and off the course. I think winning more majors should be a little ‘easier’ since he has won his first.”

Tiger and Roger

They’re brothers. One was born in Dec. 30, 1975; the other in August 8, 1981. They both wear shirts with the swoosh logo. One has the label “TW” and the other has “RF.” On their wrists are wrapped Rolex watches. One wields an iron club while the other clubs an iron called a tennis racket. They’re both 6-foot-1 weighing 185 lbs.

Tiger Woods and Roger Federer are the so-called GOAT. Spelled fully, that’s Greatest Of All Time. True? No and Yes. Let’s rewind the clock and return to 2008. That year, Tiger and Roger stood at the top of the golf and tennis worlds and, talking of similarities, were both tied at 14 Grand Slam titles apiece.

That was nine years ago. A lot has happened since. With Tiger, he was en route to easily overtaking Jack Nicklaus’ 18-major trophy collection. There was zero doubt among golfing experts then that he would be crowned The Greatest. But nobody expected the catastrophe of his married life, highlighted by the club-wielding, car-wrecking tee shot of Elin Nordegren, which ultimately led to their divorce.

Meanwhile, Mr. Federer has led an immaculate and unblemished family life; he and his wife Mirka will celebrate their eighth anniversary this Tuesday and are blessed with two sets of identical twins, Myla Rose and Charlene Riva, and the boys, Leo and Lennart. On the tennis court, while Tiger has added zero major trophies to his collection, Roger has compiled four more, bringing his tally to 18 — the most of any male tennis player.

“What Rog has done is he’s been dominant for so long,” Tiger said last February after Roger won in Melbourne. “To compete against Novak (Djokovic), to compete against Rafa, and now Andy (Murray). He’s had a litany of guys who have won slams. And no one wins slams at his age. And for him to come back, after having to take that much time off, and for him to get the timing, that’s the hardest part. As you get older, you change your game and you do things slightly differently, and he did that.”

Asked about Tiger’s kind words, Roger answered: “I really wish, of course, he could come back and win again — I wouldn’t want anything else but that. It would be great.”

Let’s recap: Tiger is stranded at 14 majors and, given his endless bout with injuries, it doesn’t look likely that he’ll win another big one. Plus, he’s 41 years too old. So, is he golf’s GOAT? No. He was a sure candidate but he ruined that with his personal travails. And while Tiger’s trajectory has been downhill (like the specialty of his ex-girlfriend Lindsey Vonn), Roger’s is all-positive. Come Wimbledon, he’ll be the favorite and he’s eyeing to regain that No.1 ranking.

The main difference between the two? How Roger treats the most important person in his life. After winning the Australian Open, he credited one person for his resurgence: his wife Mirka.

“She’s been there when I had no titles and she’s still here 89 titles later, so she had a big part to play in the win,” Roger said. “And that’s why I’m just happy she’s my wife now.”

If only Tiger had not been such a tiger.

The return of golf’s almost-greatest

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(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Tiger, who? It’s funny how, back in 2008 after Eldrick Tont Woods won his 14th major crown at the U.S. Open in Torrey Pines, the sporting world was sure that he’d break the all-time record of Jack Nicklaus.

Nobody saw his demise. Nobody saw that club-smashing wallop from Elin. Nobody predicted, eight years forward as he returns to competitive golf after a 15-month absence, that Tiger Woods is forgotten, balding, winless in 40 months, irrelevant.

Today at the Hero World Challenge tournament in the Bahamas, TW returns to swing his TaylorMade M2 driver and to caress that Bridgestone ball using his Scotty Cameron Newport 2 putter. Tiger’s back. But he’s not supposed to join. Ranked a lowly 898th in the world (if my research is correct, our top-ranked Pinoy golfer Miguel Tabuena sits at 156), Tiger is playing in a field who’s lowest ranked player is No. 38. And when he last joined two years ago, guess how he placed? Last place. But, hey, he’s Tiger Woods — and so he’s playing.

How bad are Tiger’s injuries? Hobbled by a back injury that required two operations, he hasn’t competed since August last year. Prior to that, his physical maladies were unfathomable. Here are excerpts of a piece I wrote entitled, “Tiger Woods, diagnosed by Dr. Tony San Juan:”

“Golf isn’t like MMA. It’s not like football or basketball where injuries abound. It’s not Pacquiao punching Bradley. Golf is a gentleman’s game. It’s a sport of leisurely walks, effortless 9-iron swings, soft putts, gingerly handshakes. Golf is not a sport of injuries. That’s what I thought. But Tiger Woods has suffered repeated injuries. Consider these afflictions: Surgery on left knee to remove fluid inside and outside the ACL. Arthroscopic surgery on his left knee to repair cartilage damage. Two stress fractures of the left tibia. Surgery to repair the ACL in his left knee by using a tendon from his right thigh. MCL sprain. Lower back spasms. And, just last March 31, surgery for a pinched nerve.”

That article was dated April 2014. After that, Tiger’s physical woes did not improve. When asked if the possibility of retirement loomed, he said recently: “Not being able to get out of bed, not being able to move, how can I expect to come out here and swing a golf club at 120 miles an hour and be ballistic when I can’t even get out of bed? So, yeah, there was a lot of trepidation and times where I thought… was it realistic?”

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JACK NICKLAUS. Yesterday, Nicklaus was interviewed by BBC Sport and asked about Tiger’s comeback.

Ever the optimist, he believes that Tiger has at least 10 more years of competitive golf ahead of him. What’s troubling Tiger, he was asked, apart from his injuries?

“That probably is the five inches between his ears that is the part that he’s having trouble with,” Nicklaus said. “(Tiger) has got to re-evaluate… and find out what’s going to happen to him and how can he mentally get himself back into the idea of playing golf again.”

Golf is mental. Most of sport is mental. But golf is the most mentally-challenging of ballgames. Steve Elkington once said, “The mind is your greatest weapon. It’s the greatest club in your bag. It’s also your Achilles’ heel.”

How about the possibility of Tiger breaking Jack’s record? Nicklaus won his 18th major at the age of 46. (He won his 16th and 17th at 40 years old.) Tiger turns 41 on Dec. 30 and he has amassed 14. Can he win five more at this late stage to surpass The Golden Bear? The two-letter answer is No. If he does triumph in one more major or accumulates a few more, it will be akin to Donald Trump’s improbable upset over Hillary. But if there’s one human being who can do it, it’s TW.

“I don’t think anything is safe,” Nicklaus said, of his record. But first, the 76-year-old Nicklaus said, he’s got to prove it.

“I think Tiger has got the physical and the mental ability to be able to handle that but then he has got to go out and do it,” he said. “We’ll see. I wish him well.”

PAL Interclub

Atty. Jovi Neri sent me this report on Cebu Country Club’s title quest: “Since Dec., the team has been playing together and more often, which means sacrificing time away from family, friends, and work.. We are better prepared than last year when we had so many distractions and uncertainties… Course familiarity is always an advantage in golf, but we only have it in CCC. Club Filipino in Danao is not our home course… On pressure: Nine of our ten players will have at least four appearances so we are all experienced. Our reigning club champion Harvey Sytiongsa is playing only his second Interclub so that still makes him a veteran, plus he beat all of us so that counts, too. It is natural for everyone to feel pressured in competition. Hopefully, experience and preparation will help us deal with it in a favorable way.”

Will Tiger ever be Tiger again? Bayani responds

The two-letter answer is NO. At his peak, TW soared with invincibility like Michael Jordan, was as dogged relentless as Rafael Nadal, and as famous as Manny Pacquiao is in GenSan.

Consider this: From 1997 to 2008, he won 14 major trophies and achieved a career Grand Slam three times. His 79 PGA Tour wins is second only to Sam Snead’s 82. Tiger is acknowledged as the sporting world’s first billionaire, a feat he pocketed at the age of 33. He was en route to besting the likes of Ali, Pele, MJ, Lance (pre-doping revelation) and Phelps as the greatest human being who ever played sports.

This was then; pre-Elin Nordegren. Now, he can barely walk. At the Farmers Insurance Classic last week, he limped and quit after 11 holes. The week before, he shot a horrendous 82 — the worst number he’s recorded as a professional.

“His golf game is in shambles,” said former pro Paul Azinger. “It’s sad to see that. But what we get to see is the most confident golfer of all-time try to claw his way back.”

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Mentally, during his peak, we know that he was unbreakable. It was Tiger who uttered these words: “My mind is my biggest asset. I expect to win every tournament I play.” Sure, up until today, he can summon his brain to conjure up images of success. That’s in the mind.

But the bigger problem is everywhere else in his body; his physical maladies. Tiger is Nadal: he’s the most injured man among men. A quick listing of his ailments will give you a headache. He’s had afflictions related to the ACL, MCL, pinched nerve, tibia, cartilage damage, back spasms.

BAYANI GARCIA. I sought comments from Cebu Country Club’s 2010 and 2013 club champion.

Here’s Bayani Garcia: “Tiger’s number one priority is to get healthy. For a person to undergo as many injuries and surgeries as he has, recovery takes longer and not to mention he isn’t as young he thinks he is. Once you get older, recovery takes longer. Also, I really feel like he needs to submit to the fact that there are certain swing thoughts and movements that he used to do 10-15 years ago that he cannot do anymore because of his age and injury. He is always talking about speed and explosiveness in his drives and getting it back to where it used to be where in reality, its not. He has to humble down and admit that he won’t be hitting it as long as he used to and these younger players will, and are hitting it past him on a regular basis.

“The only statistic that matters in golf is scoring and Tiger is arguably the best in this category in the history of the game. He is probably the most mentally tough golfer to ever play the sport and he will always find a way to score. His performances over the last 3 tournaments was rust in his game plus trying to revisit a new swing theory with his new swing coach. As golfers, we know that with any major change we introduce or re-introduce in our technique, the results take a long time to bear fruit.

“I have no doubt that he will be back. He will be back to winning golf tournaments and even snagging a few majors along the way. I still believe that he has a good chance at beating Jack Nicklaus’ record. He has the drive, the mental toughness and most importantly his experience in winning. The only way he can achieve his goals is if he remains healthy throughout the duration of his career.”

When I reminded Bayani that Tiger is getting old — he’ll turn 40 this December — he added: “There have been some 40 year olds who have won and won majors. Vijay Singh, Ernie Els, Angel Cabrera (twice), and Phil Mickelson (who won 2 of his majors when he was 40).”

True. Jack Nicklaus won his 18th and final major (Masters 1986) at the age of 46.

“These guys haven’t got an ounce of the mental toughness that Tiger has,” said Bayani. “Golf is a relatively forgiving game where you can play at a high level even to your 50s. Tiger just needs to get healthy and remain healthy. That is top priority right now. Once he does, he will find a way to score and win. Not dominate perhaps but still win.”

GIO GANDIONCO. Gio Gandionco, another top golfer from CCC who’s now in the U.S. with a golf scholarship, had this to say: “I think Tiger right now is facing a slump and if he doesn’t stay healthy, his game will continue deteriorate. He’s had many injuries and back issues and I think that’s really affecting him. His swing mechanics are coming into place, he’s recently been working with his new coach Chris Como to  get his swing back to what it was like at his prime. I think at this point, it’s also a mental issue that Tiger needs to overcome. He has never played this bad consecutively before and he needs to find a way to bounce back and gain his confidence. No doubt he has the capabilities to win again, if he stays healthy and continues to work hard, I’m sure he can win more majors.”

After the split, he recommits

art_mcilroy-wozniacki1-620x349(Photo: Getty Images)

The two world number ones were scheduled to get married. One was the top-ranked female tennis player. She held that spot for 67 weeks. The other was No. 1 in golf. Imagine a tennis-golf wife-and-husband partnership for life, two of the best at their respective games, living a made-for-Hollywood romance?

The couple: Caroline Wozniacki and Rory McIlroy. The wedding: this Nov. 8 at the Rockefeller Centre. Sadly, the wedding is not pushing through. Happily, Rory McIlroy is winning — thanks to the breakup.

Here’s the story: Rory and Caro first met three years ago. Since then, they’ve been together, Wozniacki doing caddy work on the golf course and McIlroy swinging forehands at play. Nice. It culminated with McIlroy asking his Danish girlfriend, “Will you marry me?” last New Year’s Eve. Of course, Caroline jumped with joy. By Jan. 1, she tweeted: “Rory and I started 2014 with a bang! … I said YES!!!!”

As photographers snapped pictures, on her finger glittered a huge diamond ring. But while the romance of the soon-to-be Mr. and Mrs. McIlroy was on high, their respective games turned southward. Wozniacki tumbled out of the Top 10 and had still not won a Grand Slam singles title. McIlroy? The “Boy Wonder” had fallen to 10th in the world.

Love life, excellent. Sports life, poor.

Last May, wedding invitations were sent to the elite crowd. That’s when fireworks erupted. Rory, in a heartless way, phoned his fiancee and, in all of three minutes, told her the wedding was off. Caro thought the call was a joke. He wasn’t kidding.

“There is no right way to end a relationship that has been so important to two people,” said McIlroy. “The problem is mine. The wedding invitations issued at the weekend made me realize that I wasn’t ready for all that marriage entails. I wish Caroline all the happiness she deserves and thank her for the great times we’ve had.”

Wozniacki’s Twitter account previously wrote: @CaroWozniacki: Fiancee, daughter, sister, tennis player. Mother to our dog Bruno. The day after the separation, one word was deleted: “fiancee.”

Ouch. That was 10 weeks ago. What happened next were some of the most incredible moments in golf. Hours after announcing the split, McIlroy joined the BMW PGA Championship. He won that title in May. In July, he participated in the Open Championship. Having led the entire way, he beats Sergio Garcia and Rickie Fowler by two strokes to capture his third career major trophy. Then, a couple of weeks back, he wins again — the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

From 10th-ranked a few months ago, he deletes the “0” and vaults to No. 1. And, yesterday, you know what happened. Every Filipino golfer who has cable TV watched the live drama that unfolded early yesterday until about 8:45 a.m.

I did. Arising before 6, I quickly googled “PGA winner” only to be surprised that McIlroy, the leader heading into Sunday, was down by two strokes. They were in the 9th hole. I sprung up from bed. Perfectly-timed, minutes later I watched McIlroy sink that eagle putt on the 10th to tie him with Fowler and Phil Mickelson. He would birdie twice more as his two adversaries succumbed to bogeys.

Screen Shot 2014-08-12 at 9.42.28 AM(Photo: Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

What a final last few holes in the year’s final major. A 331-yard drive by the Irishman on the 16th. Phil nearly holes an eagle on the 72nd hole. And Rory could have stayed conservative in the 18th but he still smothers that ball with his driver — resulting in his ball landing just a few feet from the water. He saves par as nightfall descends.

Four victories in as many months. The No.1 ranking. Two straight majors. Rory credits one move for this resurgence: the breakup.

“I think it has happened to me for the better,” he said. “Just seems like over the past couple of months I’ve just buried myself in my golf game and it seems to be working. What else do I have to do? I get up in the morning, go to the golf course, go to the gym. It’s just my life at the minute.”

In tennis, love means nothing. Rory agrees.

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.”

Tips for Tiger

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Two days from now, the world’s top golfers will converge in Augusta, Georgia for the “Super Bowl and Wimbledon of Golf.” It’s The Masters. But “The Master” himself, Tiger Woods, won’t be joining. The 14-major winner and current world number one is injured. Last Sunday, I chronicled a litany of injuries that have befallen the sporting world’s first billionaire. Yes, Tiger is that rich. He’s universally acclaimed as the wealthiest among athletes.

Plus, among golfers, he’s the fittest. Standing 6-foot-1 and weighing 185 lbs., his height and weight are like Rafael Nadal’s. Comparing bicep to bicep, Phil Mickelson will cry with envy.

But sporting an eight-pack abdomen and standing tall and robust like Tiger doesn’t make one injury-free. In fact, it appears that Tiger has spent too much time on the gym.

“He will have to slow down on bulking up and lifting heavy weights off the floor or with his back unsupported by a bench and concentrate instead on conditioning of golf swing specific muscle groups.” Dr. Tony San Juan said those words.

Hank Haney, the former coach of Woods, concurs: “He does a lot of the gym stuff. I know you need to do some for golf, no doubt about it. You need to be in shape, you need to avoid injury, but my opinion is he really overdoes that … He looks like he’s gained more muscle mass. When he was thinner and younger he was actually faster then. The strength maybe helps you get out of the rough but I’d agree that he’s overdone it. But he loves to work out.”

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Last Sunday, top sports and orthopaedic physician Dr. San Juan outlined the reasons why Tiger repeatedly got injured. (Doc Tony is a Class A golfer who started the sport at the age of 8 and whose best handicap is 7; he’s preparing to do multiple triathlon events soon, including the Ironman 70.3 this August.)

I asked Tony if Tiger, after his latest surgery, will be able to play competitive golf in the PGA Tour. His reply? A resounding… “Definitely!” But, for Tiger to compete longer, these are words TW has to heed… Here are Tony’s Tips For Tiger:

1) Less time in the gym (mentioned earlier).

2) “Make a few adjustments to his swing if he were to consider staying in the Tour for several more years.”

3) “Work on precision and course management more than outdriving the opposition and making them eat his dust off the tee. We do know, however, he is one of the best already in the former from years back.”

4) “Execute a shorter swing with less twisting (but potentially more torque as not to compromise distance and power) that comes with a lower risk for more injuries and accelerated wear on his back.”

5) “Go for quality practice rather than quantity practice in the practice tee or range.”

I’m sure Tiger is as frustrated as his fans about his ailments. The reason why Doc Tony is confident Tiger can hurdle all of his afflictions?

Because of his support group. “Tiger has the best possible top-tier team surrounding him, the best that the best golfer can afford — from his caddie to his therapist to his conditioning coach to his swing coach to his sports docs,” he said. “They all have the same aspiration as he does. And like every other Tiger fan, like myself – we’d like to see more of the Sunday Red shirt on the last flight on as many more tournaments and majors in the coming years.”

There’s no doubt that Tiger will be back. The question is: For how long? He’s one of humankind’s greatest competitors. But what use is a strong heart if the body parts are weak?

Interestingly, Dr. Tony mentioned that not all of Tiger’s woes are golf-swing related. “He didn’t tear his ACL on his left knee playing golf,” he said. “While he had the tear, however, Tiger and his golf swing really suffered.”

How did he get injured? He had a misstep and twisted his knee and ankle. While running!

My common sense advice for Tiger? Stick to golf. Quit running, weight-lifting and skirt-chasing.

Tiger Woods, diagnosed by Dr. Tony San Juan

When The Masters begins this Thursday, one name will be missing: the world No. 1.

Golf isn’t like MMA. It’s not like football or basketball where injuries abound. It’s not Pacquiao punching Bradley. Golf is a gentleman’s game. It’s a sport of leisurely walks, effortless 9-iron swings, soft putts, gingerly handshakes. Golf is not a sport of injuries. That’s what I thought.

But Tiger Woods has suffered repeated injuries. Consider these afflictions: Surgery on left knee to remove fluid inside and outside the ACL. Arthroscopic surgery on his left knee to repair cartilage damage. Two stress fractures of the left tibia. Surgery to repair the ACL in his left knee by using a tendon from his right thigh. MCL sprain. Lower back spasms. And, just last March 31, surgery for a pinched nerve. (Not to mention his head nearly getting chopped off by that golf club swing of his ex-wife Elin!)

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Perplexed at Tiger’s injuries, I sought the advice of the country’s top sports and orthopaedic doctor.

Dr. Jose Antonio San Juan is one of the most in-demand physicians in town. Call his clinic (Cebu Orthopaedic Institute) and you’ll be lucky to get an appointment this week or the next. I queried Doc Tony about Tiger. I asked him not only because of his medical authority but also because he’s a Class A (9-handicap) golfer of the Cebu Country Club.

“First, we weren’t born as immortals or with nine lives,” said Dr. San Juan. “Over time, the use and abuse we have put on our bodies will slowly show its true colors. We can’t deny the fact that there are limits to what our bodies can take from the physical standpoint and such is the point Tiger Woods is in right now.”

Jim Litke (of the AP) explained: “He (Tiger) broke into big-time golf at 20, thin as a 2-iron and swinging with all the abandon of a kid. He putted without nerves, hit the ball farther and passed so many career signposts so breathtakingly fast, and with such ease, that his future seemed to be on cruise-control already. But Woods is 38 now, and despite sparking the fitness craze that revolutionized professional golf, he’s falling apart like a used car.”

Dr. San Juan continues: “Whatever beating and moving parts God has given us only come as one unique part that is irreplaceable even by the most advanced of medical or surgical techniques. Once any of these parts start to malfunction or fall apart whether by injury, wear and tear (degeneration in medical terms), when one overcomes such conditions be it by medication, physical therapy and conditioning or by surgery, they never return to normal despite the fact they may seem or may be used like normal.”

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“Second, while the physicality in golf is not like other contact sports (basketball, MMA – except of course when you get hit by a ball or a wayward club which, by the way, has happened to me), the golf swing is so dynamic and involves practically your whole body from the head down to the toes that repeated swings will definitely lead to injuries or body aches and pains from wear when the basic principles of a good golf swing and conditioning are not followed.”

When a child learns the game of golf at a young age, added Doc Tony, the body adapts to the kind of swing. “Tiger’s swing was very athletic from the start but as he started to get into his late twenties, he realized that the kind of swing he had that was making him bomb 300-yard drives wasn’t going to give him longevity in the PGA Tour.”

Tiger adjusted. He went through several changes. “As Tiger changed swing coaches from Butch Harmon to Hank Haney to Sean Foley,” he said, “his body that had gotten used to certain repeated movements was now adjusting to new dynamics and now causing more wear on body parts that weren’t used to that amount of stress as he was growing up. Unfortunately, it involved body parts that don’t grow back – cartilage in his knees and the cartilage equivalent in his back (intervertebral disc that was pinching his nerve).”

Can Tiger fully recover? Find out the prognosis of Dr. San Juan this Tuesday.

Phil’s Open win, Chuck’s Aboitiz bid

The past few weeks, the United Kingdom (U.K.) has been the toast of the sports world.

Three Sundays ago, they hosted the British Grand Prix (Formula One). The following weekend, it was Wimbledon — won by their very own, Andy Murray. And, two days ago, it was the British (Golf) Open, simply called The Open Championship.

Plus, of course, the winner of the 100th staging of the Tour de France is no Lance Armstrong; he’s representing Great Britain and is named Chris Froome.

At the British Open last Sunday, an Englishman named Lee Westwood led all golfers in the fourth and final day. He was 3- under and had a two-shot advantage. But it faded away.

Instead, as golfer after golfer succumbed to the difficulty of links golf and the traps of white bunkers and the tall grass that littered around Muirfield, it was the most smiling man on the greens who won.

Phil Mickelson. Who doesn’t like the guy?

I asked our Cebuano professional to comment on Phil’s birdie-birdie round of 66 finish and here’s what Charles “Chuck” Hong had to say: “Mickelson’s win was textbook patient golf. It was all Westwood and Scott from the start and he was patient enough to wait for all his birdies down the stretch. I was rooting for Tiger or Lee to win, but mickelson’s okay. He’s a very humble winner. Of course, Tiger’s was a missed chance, but I’m sure he’ll break his dryspell pretty soon. It just seems like he runs out of luck on the last day of majors, but that’s the nature of golf. I’m sure his day will come again.”

Thanks for those comments, Chuck. As for Tiger — the man my wife Jasmin loves to hate — again, he was in contention. Again, he faltered. Watching him on SkyCable’s channel 751 late Sunday night, he rarely smiled or looked confident. That fist-pumping brashness has disappeared. There’s no question the Invincible Tiger is gone. While we all thought his breaking the 18 majors of Jack Nicklaus was a question of when, not if, now it’s an unsure proposition for the 14-slam winner who hasn’t won in his last 17 major starts.

I know who’s having a smirk and an inner laugh: Elin. Same, quite possibly, with his former caddie Steve Williams, who carried the bag of Tiger’s flight-mate, Adam Scott. That must have been an awkward scenario.

Back to the champ, Phil Mickelson, the 43-year-old from California becomes the third straight player in his 40s to win the Open, after Ernie Els and Darren Clarke. Maybe the 37-year-old Tiger has to wait three more years?

Phil now has won three of the four majors in golf: the British Open, the PGA Championship and The Masters. The only major missing in his trophy cabinet is the U.S. Open — where he’s been 2nd place a shocking six times.

ABOITIZ GOLF. Now closer to home, the year’s most awaited professional golf tournament — the Aboitiz Invitational — begins tomorrow at the Cebu Country Club.

Armed with $65,000 (about P2.7 million) in prize money, we’ll get to watch on the Banilad grounds not only the likes of Elmer Salvador (defending champion), Miguel Tabuena, Angelo Que and Jay Bayron but also plenty of foreign golfers including James Bowen (USA), Grant Jackson (UK), Scottish James Byrne and Japanese Mitsuhiko Hashizume in the 126-player field.

But Cebu and CCC will be rooting for a familiar name: Charles Hong. “I prepared for the event by not joining the Pro-Am in Davao and just staying in Cebu to practice the week before,” Chuck told me yesterday. “Though I grew up here, it would still be a great help to get a few more practice rounds than the rest of the feild. You always want to play well on your home championship, but there are no guarantees. I’ll just do my best and accept whatever outcome. And it’s very exciting playing for a home crowd. A lot of people are expecting me to do well, but I’ll just play to my expectations. Like I always have.”

In golf, the hero is Bayani

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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.”

Gio on Guan: If a 14-year-old can, Why can’t I?

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Golf is an old man’s sport. That’s what we know. That’s what we think.

Jack Nicklaus won his 18th major at the age of 46. Jerry Barber, a former PGA Championship winner, played a PGA Tour tournament (the ‘94 Buick Invitational) — at the age of 77!

That’s before. In this era of Instagram, Twitter, Galaxy S4 and Guan Tianlang, it’s all young and new.

You’ve read of Guan two weeks ago. At 14 years old, he became our planet’s youngest human being to have made the cut in a major championship. “It’s frightening to think that he was born after I won my first Masters,” said Tiger Woods, now “old” at 37.

Golf today is about the youth. Ask Jovi Neri. The young lawyer’s jungolf program at the Cebu Country Club has cultivated dozens of champions.

Miguel Tabuena barely lost (sudden death to Jay Baryon) in yesterday’s ICTSI Camp John Hay Championship. He won an event the week before. He’s only 18.

Angelo Jose “Gio” Gandionco is another young phenom. The son of Opep and Cora Gandionco, Gio is now enrolled under a golf scholarship at the Santa Clara University in California.

A multiple Philippine junior golf champion (and major awardee during the 31st Cebu Sports Awards), Gio spoke about his co-golfer from China.

“I played with him (Guan) in a practice round for the Callaway Junior World Championship in Torrey Pines last July,” said Gio, who’ll turn 18 in June. “For him to make it to the Masters at 14 and to make a cut is such a huge accomplishment for him and for the junior golfers in Asia. I was really amazed with the way he played the game, especially knowing that he had won the Junior World in a younger age division the year before by I think more than 10 strokes.”

Gio is motivated by Guan’s achievement. If a 14-year-old can do it, says Gio, why cant I? “My teammates and I talk about him and we were all shocked to see Guan performing well considering the pressure he was going through.”

Adam Scott — 18 years older than Guan at 32 — is another hero Gio admires. After last year’s collapse at the Open Championship, Gio expected the Australian to rebound. Adam Scott did — winning The Masters. “He has always been one of my favorite players,” Gio said. “He has a great swing and maintains his composure throughout the whole game.”

COLLEGE. Our talk shifted to his collegiate freshman year living in America. Thus far, with the Santa Clara U. team, he’s competed in Washington, Arizona, Oregon, all over California and even in Mexico.

“Traveling to different places, playing golf and meeting new people is always fun especially when you’re with a team,” Gio said.

Santa Clara is a private (non-profit) Jesuit school based in Silicon Valley — the “world’s technological capital” that houses Google, Apple and Yahoo! Gio calls the school “not too big or too small” (about 5,000 undergraduate students and thousands more in grad-school).

In golf, they were seven players (now down to five because one quit and another didn’t reach the required grade point average to play as a student-athlete).

“I have qualified and played on the traveling team for each tournament this year,” Gio reports. “I have had 3 top 20 finishes, two of which were in the last tournaments of the year. I made a pretty good finish in our West Coast Conference Championship just last week being the only one from my team to get a 2013 All-West Coast Conference Honorable Mention.”

Gio’s schedule is all academics and golf: “MWF, I have class from 8-12 then golf practice from 1 to when ever it gets dark (which is about 6-7pm),” he said. “On Tuesdays and Thursdays, my team has 6am workouts followed by class from 8-2 then golf practice when it gets dark.” During his slack time, Gio studies and plays another round of golf on Saturdays. On Sundays, he rests.

“Being a Student-Athlete isn’t all easy, it takes a lot of hard work and sacrifice,” he says. “It takes time and effort to practice golf and study regularly especially if you’re traveling every week. But despite the hectic and busy schedule, I am still able to maintain my grades.”

From Down Under to the Top of the World

Toby Florendo, my former CIS schoolmate, is a huge golf enthusiast. I sought Toby’s comments on the 77th edition of The Masters.

“Since five years ago, The Masters has been setting an unbelievable standard for excitement,” Toby said. “Bubba’s playoff shot last year. Schwartzel’s birdie run on the last 4 holes in 2011. Mickelson’s shot off pine straw in 2010. Cabrera’s battle of nerves in a 3 man playoff in 2009. This year it continues to live up to the hype.”

Toby — a 10-handicapper whose credentials include being the Handicap Chairman of CCC, a member of the Rules Committee at CCC, a member of the Monthly Tournament Committee at Alta Vista and part owner of Redgolf — said that two controversial rulings made the 2013 event more exciting: Tiger Woods’ 2-stroke penalty and the one stroke penalty for slow play on Tian Lang Guan, whom Toby simply calls “TLG.”

As for yesterday’s victory by Adam Scott — what a historic moment. Like most golfers, I woke up early to watch the last few rounds.

I switched on the TV. Isn’t it a beauty watching sports on high-definition? More so with The Masters. The carpet green grass. The shiny white sand. The colorful flowers and shirts of the spectators. The green and white striped umbrellas. All amidst the rain. Nothing looks more pristine and picturesque than The Masters.

When I started watching, I was surprised: A Filipino was going to win The Masters.

Jason Day, who looks Pinoy and whose mom is Filipina (his dad’s Australian), led the field at 9-under with a few holes left. Sayang. It wouldn’t last long. It wasn’t Jason’s day in The Masters!

ADAM. Minutes later, when another Australian — Adam Scott — sank a long birdie putt on the 18th, I thought it was over. In the fight between two As: Adam vs. Angel and Australian vs. Argentinian, we thought the Aussie won.

Wearing a white T-shirt with the logos of Uniqlo and Mercedes Benz on his chest, Adam shouted, “Come on, Aussie, Come on!” He slapped a high five with caddie Steve Williams.

But Cabrera wouldn’t surrender. He, too, birdied the 72nd hole.

“That finish was unbelievable,” Toby said. “Cabrera’s answer in regulation to Adam’s 20-foot birdie. Their play in the playoff was quality golf. Scott has always never played to his potential; after missing opportunities in the first 17 holes, it looked like it would be another major heartbreak for the Aussie. Scott’s making those pressure putts after missing everything the whole day shows how fickle golf can be.”

In the end, Adam Scott — who led by four shots with four holes to play in The Open Championships last year but still lost — did not collapse last Sunday. He birdied the 2nd playoff hole to win the Green Jacket.

TLG. With the 14-year-old Chinese phenom, Toby added: “TLG opens a huge door for golf. Golf in North America and Europe is stagnating. The new market is Asia. TLG just awakened tens of millions of possible golfers on the mainland. Remember Yao Ming’s impact on basketball? This will be bigger an impact for golf.”

MASTERS. Toby further explains why this event is special.

“The Masters is my favorite because it is the only major that has the same venue year in and year out. The design of the course is really risk-reward. It is the triumph of victory and the agony of defeat. All of that creates better memories. It is also the only tournament in the world that could care less what the outside world thinks. It is a tournament run by the club. Golf’s governing bodies have no say on who can/cannot play. It was originally called the Augusta National Invitational because that is what it is, a tournament where the club invites players to play. They set the criteria beforehand but at any moment they can decide to add or subtract someone from the list.”

How expensive are the tickets? Toby said they cost $5,000 to watch “live” the entire week. (That price rose to $10,000 a few days before the start.) Toby stayed in Cebu. But someday, sometime, Mr. Florendo will go and watch golf’s masters play in Augusta.

Garcia and Garcia help in twin golf wins

Raymond Garcia and Bayani Garcia are first cousins. Their fathers, Alvin and Jesus, Jr., are brothers. But that’s not the only thing they share in common. There’s another: golf.

Last week, while triathletes braved Liloan and Donnie Nietes salvaged a majority draw Waterfront Hotel win, there was another duel going on: the 66th PAL Interclub.

The biggest winner? No doubt: Cebu. Team CCC won the Championship Division. In another category — not played by sportswriters but called the “Sportswriters Division” — Club Filipino won. That’s 2 out of 4 for Cebu.

But first, the premier category: the Championship Division.

Bayani Jess L. Garcia, one of the 10 chosen by Cebu Country Club to lead their squad (the others include Andre Borromeo, LJ Go, Mark Dy, Marko Sarmiento, Eric Deen, Jovi Neri, Carl Almario, Montito Garcia and Gen Nagai), surprised me with this statement…

“I can confidently speak for the team that we did not feel any added pressure,” Bayani said. “Yes, we were favored to win because we were the defending champions and the tournament will be held in our turf but we did not let those thoughts get to us. We were more focused on our practice, preparation, and character-building for the tournament.”

In one word, Bayani alludes to a trait that’s common to all winners: Confidence. And, when you add that the venue is Cebu, you have this: Home-court confidence.

Bayani considers this victory even sweeter than last year’s. “We were able to do it in our home course, in front of all the members, our club, and our fellow Cebuanos,” he said. This win also validated what his team knew: last year was no fluke. He adds, “It also solidifies our position as the top club in the country.”

The secret to victory? “Chemistry and a family-oriented frame of mind,” he answered. “Everyone is so comfortable with one another despite the different age groups (ages covering from the 50s down to the teens). We play with each other so often even during the offseason that we are able to form bonds and develop a certain level of comfort among one another. We don’t consider ourselves just teammates. We are FAMILY to each other. This is a special trait that CCC has which sets us apart from the rest.”

Next year? The host city has yet to be determined. But, ever the confident bunch, they’ll maintain the same team next year (“a solid group of skilled and talented players,” says Bayani) and will be aiming to defend and give CCC a new meaning: Champion-Champion-Champion.

CLUB FILIPINO. Another Cebu club that triumphed was Club Filipino.

Atty. Raymond Alvin N. Garcia, SunStar’s AVP for Legal and Administration Affairs, narrated to me their story.

Heading into the PAL Interclub event, Club Filipino had not won in a long time. Led by captain Evans Tumaliwan, club president Boboy Durano and Atty. Garcia, they devised a plan.

“Our strategy was very well planned and executed,” said Raymond. “It was simple: let the players who are familiar with Mactan play in Mactan for two days and the same for Cebu Country Club.”

They assigned Mactan specialists like Fernando Mondares, Jufil Sato, Bataire Balangauan, Hospicio Razon and Teddy Almario to play in Mactan and CCC regulars like Garcia, Evans Tumaliwan, Kawakami, Shotaro Soda and Victor Yuvallos to play in CCC.

The result was amazing. “Club Filipino won by 16 points. And it could have been 20 points if Jufil Sato was not disqualified,” Raymond said. “Before the tournament, I told the team that the key to success was Mactan. True enough, it was the Mactan scores that gave us the lead. We scored 17 points better than Zamboanga (who was the 1st day leader by 8 pts.), and in Day 2, we scored 8 pts. better than Zamboanga.”

The most remarkable part? The last time Club Filipino won the Sportswriters Division was in 1980.

Raymond Garcia explains: “The team then was composed of, among others, my dad, former Mayor Alvin Garcia. I was 3 years old then. Now after 33 years, Club Fiipino wins again and this time, me as a member of the winning team. What a great trivia.”

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.”

Gandionco for golf, Gullas for tennis

Dwayne Wade and LeBron James combined for 70 points yesterday. After Miami Heat lost their last two games against the Indiana Pacers, it was time to panic. Had they lost Game 4, they’d be down 1-3—an embarrassment and scary scenario for the NBA’s “Avengers.”

But LeBron didn’t panic. He pulled down 18 rebounds, dished-out 9 assists and scored 40. Dwayne? He had 9 rebounds, 6 assists and 30 points. Now, the series is tied two games apiece and it’s a two-out-of-three contest. It’s back to home-court advantage for Miami. If they win Game 5—which we expect them to—they’ll go on to win the series and, in my analysis, win the entire NBA championship.

Game 4 was the most crucial game this year for Miami.  LeBron and Wade, minus Chris Bosh, prevailed.

In the other Eastern side, expect Boston to prevail and meet Miami. The West? San Antonio has humiliated the LA Clippers, 4-0. They’ll rest and await… the Oklahoma City Thunder. Again, that Game 4 was most crucial for the LA Lakers and Oklahoma. Had Kobe escaped to tie it for 2-all, it would be a toss-up. Now, the Lakers are down 1-3. They’ll be out soon.

GIO. He hails from Cebu and he’s the best junior golfer in the country today.

Angelo Jose “Gio” Gandionco, only 16, has been a perennial winner the past month. His recent accomplishments: Montecillo Junior Golf Championship, finished first; Junior World Qualifying, finished first; Philippine Amateur, semifinalist; Frankie Miñoza Tournament in Del Monte, finished first; Frankie Miñoza, Alta Vista, finished first; Philippine Junior Open, finished first.

Gio started golf at the age of four. His dad, Opep, who leads Julie’s Bakeshop as the CEO, used Little Tikes plastic golf clubs for Gio. By the age of seven, he joined tournaments. At first, Gio mixed football and golf as Springdale’s striker. But, by age 11, he focused on the game of his favorite player, Rory McIlroy.

“The past few weeks have been the best,” said Gio, in an e-mail last Sunday night. “I have playing tournament after tournament, week after week.” Week after week, win after win…

“Golf is extreme hard work,” said Gio. “It takes time and hours to fix your golf swing and it takes years to master and gain experience. Of course, golf is fun for me, playing tournament golf and just playing around with friends makes me love the game so much.”

What made him sweep all these giant events this summer? His decision to skip joining tournaments last November and December so he can focus fixing his swing.

As to the added pressure of winning, Gio shrugs that off. “Every victory made me more confident. It made me realize my potential. It does add a little extra pressure to maintain my winning streak but if I just focus on my game, it won’t bother me.”

Gio will leave for the U.S. on June 14 to join several prestigious junior golf events, among them the 95th Western Junior Golf Championship in Florida and the Callaway Junior World Championship in Torey Pines, San Diego. Then, he’s back here by mid-July and will represent the country in one of Asia’s biggest events: the Lion Cuty Cup. Then, by September, he returns to America for his much-awaited college scholarship in Santa Clara University.

GULLAS CUP. One of the most anticipated of tennis tournaments started yesterday at the Cebu International Tennis Centre, Inc. (CITCI) in Consolacion.

Mayor Teresa Alegado graced the opening. A total of 196 entries, many players coming from areas not in Cebu, are joining this five-day-long event which offers 9 age-group categories (from 10-and-under to 18-and-under).

Thanks to the Gullas brothers, Dodong and Eddie, both tennis players, this event has thrived and continued after 17 years.

Gen, Marko and Jovi on Bubba Watson

(Reuters/Mike Segar)

In Cebu golf, Marko Sarmiento is one of the longest-hitters off the tee. He averages 290 yards and, when the fairways are dry, that number can exceed 340. Just like Bubba Watson. “Yeah we’re both long hitters that aren’t great putters!” said Marko.

Here’s Marko’s assessment of the new champ:

“It’s no secret the key to winning the Masters is great putting. When Tiger won his first green jacket in 1997 he didn’t have a single 3 putt!

“Bubba? He’s one of the worst putters on tour. He’s ranked 154 out of 182 but.. he’s ranked 1st in driving distance (313 yards!) and 2nd in greens in regulation. In other words, he gives himself a lot of chances for birdie because of his superior power which leaves him mostly wedges for a 2nd shot. He’s also known to be able to shape the ball any way imaginable and this has to do with his inability to hit fairways off the tee because of how much club head speed he generates. And because of his creativity, he won the Masters!

“This could not have been more evident with his 2nd shot on the 2nd playoff hole. He had to hook his ball 40 yards with a pitching wedge! Trust me, this isn’t easy to do. Having a Masters champion like Bubba is great for golf. He’s known to be very outspoken, uses a pink Ping driver and cries like a baby on national television every time he wins a tournament. The saying “drive for show and putt for dough” didn’t hold up last week!

“Unlike Rory McIlroy and Luke Donald (the 2nd and 1st ranked players in the world), Bubba (who’s now at number 4 after his win) isn’t as well-rounded. But because of creativity, raw power and a new found confidence, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him challenge them. Go Bubba!

“When Tiger won in Bayhill two weeks before the Masters, he said his swing is still at 70%. He’s been revamping it with new coach Sean Foley and I guess it’s safe to say the remaining 30% showed up in Augusta. I have no doubt that his new swing has the potential to get him back to number 1 in the world but what I do doubt is his health. With four surgeries and a WD in the World Golf Championships earlier in the year because of some soreness, who knows how sturdy that left knee is. He’s only 36 and in golf years that’s still fairly young. If you also consider his incredible work ethic, he may not have enough left in the tank to break Nicklaus’ record of 18 Majors.”

JOVI AND GEN. I also asked help from Atty. Jovi Neri to comment. Here’s Jovi:

“Gen Nagai, CCC’s star rookie in the PAL Interclub, is perhaps the biggest Bubba Watson fan in the entire island of Cebu. Just recently, he even had his driver painted pink.

“Last year, Gen was able to visit the headquarters of Bubba’s equipment sponsor, Ping Golf, in Scottsdale, Arizona, to be fitted for clubs in their special driving range. Of course, the first thing he asked the people there was about Bubba.”

Said Gen Nagai: “They said Bubba always visits there as much as twice a month just to hang out. He is quite friendly and fun. But he is also weird because he tries shots that no other pro would try. For example, he would face the other way and try to hit the ball under the roof, then over the trees, then into the putting green.

“Bubba is also the only Ping-sponsored pro who can hit it over the boundaries of the range which is over 350 yards away. Other Ping pros include Lee Westwood, Louis Oousthuizen, and Mark Wilson.

“They said that while Bubba is known for hitting the ball very long, he has incredible touch and feel, and attempts a lot of shots out of the ordinary using his creativity and imagination.

“Bubba also loves hot colors, with the text of his clubs having colors such as pink.”

Jovi continues… “After hearing Gen’s stories about what the people in Ping said about Bubba and his incredible shots in their facility, it was less of a shock to see his 40-yard hook with a wedge from over 150 yards below and around the trees in the second playoff hole that sealed the victory in the Masters.

“My take on Tiger: two tournaments ago in Bay Hill he just won convincingly. He may have struggled in the Masters but it’s just one tournament. Rory McIlroy and Luke Donald quietly had mediocre performances too but it slipped under the radar because they are not scrutinized as much as Tiger.

“If a Filipino got invited to play the Masters and made the cut, he would probably be hailed as the greatest Filipino golfer of all-time. But if Tiger just makes the cut and fails to contend, people think he is a goner. Tiger is a victim of his greatness.

“Tiger upped the ante during his heydey, and the new breed of players led by McIlroy have risen to the challenge elevating their games to that level. At 36 years old and with new young and fearless competition, Tiger will never dominate like he once did but that doesn’t mean he will not win anymore. Nicklaus won 3 majors after turning 40. The more pressing X-factor would be Tiger’s health.”