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.”

Cecil teaches us a lesson in losing

Losing is painful. Last March, we experienced it. Last Sunday, once more, we succumbed to the same heartache. Sport is brutal. While one player raises his fists to the heavens and praises The Almighty, at the opposite end of the net, another slumps his head and closes his eyes.

We won and lost last weekend. In the final tally against a youthful team from Chinese Taipei, we lost in the Davis Cup. The score: 3-2. It was close. Too close. And that’s what makes the Friday to Sunday activity distressing.

In Friday’s first match at 10 A.M., our legendary netter named Cecil Mamiit won the first set. And while he lost the second set, in the crucial third set, he led 6-3. He had three set points. Would you believe, in two of those points, the shots from Chen Ti clipped the top of the net and, for a split second, the ball hovered on the air… then dropped on our side. Point, Chen. The crowd could not believe it. Then, as bad luck would have it, Cecil lost the third set tiebreaker and, eventually, the match. 1-0, Taiwan.

Treat Conrad Huey saved the day with a Thank-God-Its-Friday type of inspired play, swatting aces, slicing drop shots, easily disposing of Jimmy Wang in straight sets. 1-all by the end of Day One.

The Pinoys who gathered at Plantation Bay Resort and Spa were optimistic. This was better than our contest versus Japan last March when we trailed 0-2. On Saturday, we stood confident. The doubles pairing of Treat and Cecil was experienced and formidable. We won the first set. Easy. We lost the second. We won the third set. Easy. We needed only one more set… We lost the fourth set. Then, at six games all, with Treat’s left-handed serve ready to fire, he misfired. We got broken. The Taiwanese cheered “Jai-Ho!” They high-fived. After four hours of ping-pong games using yellow balls, we lost 8-6 in the fifth set.

Down 1-2, the hundreds who paraded towards Marigondon to sit on the world-class bleachers prepared by Mayor Paz Radaza and Councilor Harry Radaza of Lapu-Lapu City sat dejected. How can this be? How can this awful moment happen again?

Later that night, I spotted Cecil Mamiit having dinner by the pool with his team. Downtrodden? Feeling lowly and sad? Was that how our team captain felt? No! If you had spoken to him that evening and didn’t know what happened just 150 minutes earlier, you’d think Team Philippines won. That’s how upbeat Cecil was. “Don’t worry,” he said. “We’ll win tomorrow. That was just extra practice. We wanted to provide more drama for the GMA TV network!” Smiling. That’s how he looked.

That night—regardless of what happens the next morning—I came to this realization: When you’re a top-flight athlete, you have to think like Cecil. What happened in the past is past. Nobody has a tape recorder to rewind the past.

Cecil had to completely erase the pain, replace it with happy thoughts, smile, get excited while everybody else looked sour, and expect to win. That’s the mindset of a champion. That’s why he’s beaten Michael Chang. That’s why Cecil was formerly world no. 72. That’s why he’s El Capitan. Positive, positive, positive. That’s what he taught me. That’s what he imparts to us.

Of course, by now, we know what happened the following day: Treat Huey led 3-1 in the first set, led 5-2 in the second set… but still lost in three sets. We lost. But Mr. Mamiit never focused on the negative. And, on the positive side, Jeson Patrombon showed the loudest cheerers of the weekend what a Bisaya is made of. (The joke: our team is composed of three Fil-Ams and one Il-Am… because Jeson is from Iligan.)

Jeson beat the former world no. 85 (Wang) in three sets. Cecil, who sat as coach to the 18-year-old, saw for himself the future Cecil… in Jeson.

Davis Cup photos

Jeson Patrombon (below) saves the day for Team Philippines, winning the 5th match in three sets. In the final tally, though, the Chinese Taipei squad defeated our Philippine team, 3-2. Sayang. We had plenty of chances. From Cecil Mamiit’s three set points in Day One to the painful 8-6 loss in the fifth set in Day Two to Treat Huey’s break-of-serve leads in the first and second sets in Sunday’s finale. Still, it was an exciting finish.. especially with the 18-year-old Iligan City player’s (Jeson’s) victory over Jimmy Wang, formerly ranked No. 85 in the world.

To Cecil, Treat, Ruben, Jeson, Johnny and Randy Villanueva… the loss was painful but, like you did last March against Japan, you gave it everything you got. You’re the pride of Philippine Tennis. The Cebuanos applaud you!

Check out more photos in this link.

Ace! Tomorrow, it’s the first serve of Davis Cup

Cecil, Jeson, Ruben, Johnny and Treat

At 10 A.M. today at the Lapu-Lapu City Hall, the official draw of the Davis Cup tie between the Philippines and Chinese Taipei will happen.

Tomorrow, the Battle of Mactan starts. The first match commences at 10 in the morning. The second match immediately follows. All the sword- and racket-fighting will happen just kilometers away from the actual site where Lapu Lapu killed Magellan. Cecil Mamiit and Treat Conrad Huey are expected to play the two singles games tomorrow. On Saturday, starting at 12 noon, it’s the doubles. Then, during the finale on Sunday, it’s the two reverse singles.

We’re lucky. One, it appears that the top two netters of Taiwan are not standing today in our island. Lu Yen-hsun and Yang Tsung-hua (unless they make a surprise landing) are in China for an ATP Challenger event.

Two, the battle is not in Taipei or in Manila—but here in our Visayan city.

Three, the “extras” that the organizers have prepared for the crowd are ready…  I was at the Plantation Bay Resort and Spa tennis court two afternoons ago to watch Jeson Patrombon, Ruben Gonzales and the rest of our PHL team practice. Nets (or, diffusers, as we call them) have been installed above the bleachers to help shade the spectators.

Also, to those having difficulty finding a ride to Marigondon, free shuttle buses can be availed of. From 6:30 to 8:30 A.M. tomorrow until Sunday, these buses will park at the South Surface Parking area of Ayala Center (near Oh! George)—ready to ferry the viewers.

Friday (tomorrow) is the most crucial day of the weekend. That’s why I urge everyone… watch tomorrow. It’s the best tennis day of the weekend. Bring your cap and sunscreen, wear shorts… and go tomorrow.

See you at the Davis Cup!

DJOKOVIC. If you think, because of the sweat that drips and the muscles that flex, that sport is all physical… think again. It’s mental. Sure, sport requires the physical. Boxers jab. Sprinters burst. Swimmers breathe. Volleyball spikers jump and slam. In sport, if your body is weak and wobbly, forget it. You might as well stick to painting or be Charice Pempengco.

But this I also know is true: Sport is mental. While your arms strike and your legs flutter, who controls these bodily parts? Your brain.

Novak Djokovic’s brain is unyielding. It’s the most forceful, robust and unbending brain in tennis today. At the other day’s US Open final, he beat the 10-slam champ, Rafa Nadal. Djokovic was injured after that third set. His back ached. His serve ached. But, in the end, it was Nadal who was in pain.

In pain from the most painful of losses. He lost the Open in New York. He lost in Wimbledon. He lost to the same Serbian strongman six times out of six times this 2011… all of them in finals.

Nobody does this to Rafa. Not even the Swiss. In the same way that when Roger Federer faces Rafa from across the net, a simmer of doubt weaves through his brain, it’s the same with Rafa vs. Novak.

Rafa knows. Novak knows. They both know who’s going to win. Mental. It’s all in the mind. But, for all the successes this year of Novak (John McEnroe calls it “one of the greatest ever”), his total earnings is ONLY $10.5 million. Only? Yes, only. Because while he won 64 of 66 matches this year, his earnings pale in comparison to one Pinoy who’ll pocket at least $20,000,000 in a short 36 minutes (maximum) this November 12.

ULTRAMAN. Congratulations to Joel Garganera. This man is unstoppable. His perseverance is inexhaustible. I recall, together with Atan and Jeson Guardo, us meeting at a coffee shop in Ayala a couple of years ago. I gave Joel a few tips on how to tackle the Hong Kong Marathon, their group’s first 42K run.

Last weekend at the Warrior 53K Ultramarathon, Mr. Garganera did not just finish—he was the 4th fastest runner! To top that, here’s an even more amazing fact: that was Joel’s 19th marathon/ultra-marathon—in a span of just 2 1/2 years.

FINALLY… Have you watched the 24/7 HBO special on Mayweather-Ortiz in YouTube? You should.

Can Huey treat us to a DC win over Taiwan?

Everybody who wears red gloves, who clenches their fists, grits their teeth, and confronts this Filipino diamond named Manny Pacquiao says the same thing: I’ll beat that Man.

Everybody, at the end of the 3rd or the 7th or the 12th round, with eyes swollen, ribs mutilated, cheekbones tarnished—all testify in unison: Man, he’s too good.

The last time someone defeated Pacquiao? The year was 2007. His name wasn’t David Diaz or Ricky Hatton or Joshua Clottey. All those and many more lost to MP.

The last one? A she: Darlene Antonino-Custodio. That was fought in the political ring—an arena unlike Manny’s preferred stage.

With boxing, it’s been 14 straight wins for Pacman. Not since March 2005—or six-and-a-half years ago; against San Miguel Beer endorser Erik Morales—has our modern-day Jose Rizal experienced a loss.

This November 12, Manny is assured of Victory No. 15 in the same way that Ateneo will surely win the UAAP crown. It’s a future fact that we know today.

Looking back, the first time Juan Manuel Marquez battled Pacquiao was in 2004. The score was a draw. Then, the second time they punctured each other’s abdomens, J-M-M beat M-P. You and I witnessed it. Yes, it was a close, close war—but I thought our man lost. Yet… our Man’ won. That was 3 ½ years ago.

Two months from now, when the Mexican and the taga-GenSan meet again, it won’t be a perplexing debate to judge. Marquez is 38 years old. That’s way too young to be a grandfather—but way too old to be a fighter. Manny will ambush him; he’ll bat his head with his knuckles; he’ll bust his jaws; Manny will wallop every inch of Juan Manuel’s bare chest and face and bloody him down to the floor of Las Vegas.

Bob Arum, nearly 80, is boxing’s Mr. Experience. He knows and we know that, this November, Manny will use the Mexican as a punching bag for next year’s Mayweather quarrel.

TREAT HUEY is in the Round of 16 of the US Open. Today, he and partner Somdev Devvarman will play the Indian pair of Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhuphati. Their match is scheduled at the Grandstand Court.

I’ve had the chance, exactly a dozen years ago this week, to sit on the hallowed chairs of the Grandstand Court. Unlike the Arthur Ashe Stadium, which seats 22,000, and the Louis Armstrong Stadium (10,000 capacity), the Grandstand Court (6,000 seats) is cozier. I hope their match gets shown on Balls TV.

Have you been watching the US Open? The early sleeper that I am, I haven’t. This event starts 11 A.M. in New York and, with our 12-hour time difference, this translates to an 11 P.M. beginning here.

I did watch portions of Novak Djokovic last Sunday morning. With his mental strength like that of UFC champion Anderson Silva, the Serbian world No. 1 aims to add a third major this 2011 to his Australian Open and Wimbledon victories.

DAVIS CUP. Buy your tickets now! This was the unanimous message at our press conference yesterday attended by several officials: Ken Salimbangon, Nestor Toledo, Randy Villanueva, Lapu-Lapu City Councilor Harry Radaza, Jess Lagman and Dr. Tony San Juan.

Ticket prices for next weekend’s (Sept. 16 to 18) Davis Cup matches between our Philippines versus Taiwan (Chinese Taipei) start at P200. Yes. No typographical error there. That’s P200 for one full day of international sporting competition.

Why the low prices? “Cecil (Mamiit) is requesting that we fill-up the entire grandstand with Cebuanos,” said Philta’s Randy Villanueva. Last March, when we faced Japan, the clay-court at the Plantation Bay Resort and Spa was about 70 percent full. Not bad. But not good enough. Echoed Hon. Harry Don Radaza: “We want 100 percent capacity.”

Tickets are available at Chris Sports at Ayala Center or SM City. You can also call (032) 518-4455 or 0923-9784497.

You’ll be treated to the newfound confidence of Treat. You’ll observe the Michael Chang-like fighting spirit of Mr. Mamiit. You’ll witness, for the first time, the forehand of Jeson Patrombon and the smash of Ruben Gonzales.

Don’t miss this treat.

Manny vs Juan Manuel

Everybody who wears red gloves, who clenches their fists, grits their teeth, and confronts this Filipino diamond named Manny Pacquiao says the same thing: I’ll beat that Man.

Everybody, at the end of the 3rd or the 7th or the 12th round, with eyes swollen, ribs mutilated, cheekbones tarnished—all testify in unison: Man, he’s too good.

The last time someone defeated Pacquiao? The year was 2007. His name wasn’t David Diaz or Ricky Hatton or Joshua Clottey. All those and many more lost to MP.

The last one? A she: Darlene Antonino-Custodio. That was fought in the political ring—an arena unlike Manny’s preferred stage.

With boxing, it’s been 14 straight wins for Pacman. Not since March 2005—or six-and-a-half years ago; against San Miguel Beer endorser Erik Morales—has our modern-day Jose Rizal experienced a loss.

This November 12, Manny is assured of Victory No. 15 in the same way that Ateneo will surely win the UAAP crown. It’s a future fact that we know today.

Looking back, the first time Juan Manuel Marquez battled Pacquiao was in 2004. The score was a draw. Then, the second time they punctured each other’s abdomens, J-M-M beat M-P. You and I witnessed it. Yes, it was a close, close war—but I thought our man lost. Yet… our Man’ won. That was 3 ½ years ago.

Two months from now, when the Mexican and the taga-GenSan meet again, it won’t be a perplexing debate to judge. Marquez is 38 years old. That’s way too young to be a grandfather—but way too old to be a fighter. Manny will ambush him; he’ll bat his head with his knuckles; he’ll bust his jaws; Manny will wallop every inch of Juan Manuel’s bare chest and face and bloody him down to the floor of Las Vegas.

Bob Arum, nearly 80, is boxing’s Mr. Experience. He knows and we know that, this November, Manny will use the Mexican as a punching bag for next year’s Mayweather quarrel.

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.”

Q & A with Jonathan “Atan” Guardo

The former Cebu City Sports Commission Chairman plays golf, tennis and airsoft. He kayaks, mountain-bikes, and has climbed the peaks of Mr. Talinis and Mt. Makiling. He has gone sky-diving five times. Triathlon, twice. The Australian Open tennis? He saw Agassi in 2004. But all these games pale in comparison to the passion Atan feels for running. Here’s my latest interview with Mr. Guardo….

Running on the road or running for office? “When you run a marathon the first time, it’s one of the most difficult experiences in your life. You’ll endure all kinds of pain and misery. And when you’re just a few kilometers away from the finish line, you’ll hit the wall. You have consumed all your energy and you can barely walk. You’ll entertain all negative thoughts. You go standstill. You want to give up. I’ve hit the wall several times but, thank God, somehow I am able to breakthrough. I’ve done several marathons and every time I hit the wall, I’ve managed to figure out a way.

“In politics, I’ve hit the wall twice. I can’t seem to break through. It’s something I’m still trying to figure out.”

Marathons finished? Fifteen: Hong Kong. Quezon City. Singapore. Cebu City. Kuala Lumpur. Milo 2010. Camsur. Sta Clarita, Los Angeles. San Antonio, Texas. Quezon City. Cebu Ultra 50K. Cebu City. Kawasan Falls. Milo. Aboitiz. (Fastest time: Sta. Clarita, L.A.: 5:05)

Why run? “I started in 2000 when running wasn’t as popular. The reason is because I want to keep fit. I used to have high blood pressure and elevated levels of blood sugar. But because of running, I am able to keep my doctor away. I used to weigh 175 lbs. but now I’m down to 150. Running is also a way of socializing. I look forward to the weekend runs, especially the big events, coz thats one way of hanging out with friends. It’s also bonding time with your family.”

Best experience? “I love to travel and when you incorporate that with joining a marathon, it’s a blast. I remember watching the Pacquiao-Margarito fight in Dallas, Texas last November. The fight ended at 12 midnight and I had to immediately drive 500 kms. down to San Antonio. I arrived at the hotel at 5:30 am (you definitely drive fast on freeways), changed clothes and went straight to the starting area to catch the 630am gun time. I wasn’t tired at all because there were thousands of people who joined the San Antonio Rock n Roll marathon. To have the energy and be able to finish that marathon was very special. Probably I still had that adrenaline celebrating Manny’s victory.”

On pain: “Probably because I don’t really train as hard (I only do 15K, the longest for a marathon; I get bored training), that’s why I experience pain and fatigue usually from 30K to 35K. But as I gained more experience, I realized that pain is all mental. If you let pain and fatigue defeat you, you’ll certainly crawl to the finish line.”

On barefoot running: “Last Sunday, I ran the 21K barefoot for the first time. I only had two 5K barefoot runs before. Running the 21k on barefoot was painful, with all those blisters on your toes. But I just had to mentally erase the suffering and it turned to be one of my most enjoyable runs ever. This weekend, I’m going to Panglao, Bohol for my next 21k barefoot run. I feel stronger and have better endurance. I am seriously thinking of giving away all my running shoes. I want to join the 100k ultra run from Bogo to Cebu City this november… barefoot! That would be special.”

On traveling: “Last November, I did four marathons in four weeks. Sta Clarita (LA), San Antonio, Cebu Ultra and Quezon City. The last few weeks, I did Kawasan, Milo, Aboitiz and the 21K University Run. I love joining big events. I love running with so many people. I love racing, even though I’m slow. I love going to different places. While running, I try to enjoy watching the scenic routes. The   Santa Clarita, Hong Kong, Cebu City and Kawasan marathons had beautiful routes. The people along the routes in LA, Kawasan and Camsur were friendly.”

Who do you admire? “Cebuano runners like Rening Ylaya and Raul Cepeda, who are still running in their 70s and 80s. If I can continue running marathons year-in, year-out, until I get to that age, who knows how many marathons I can finish? Hopefully, my Arthro supplement will continue to power my knees!”

Advice? “Enjoy and have fun. I’ve seen some who quit running; probably they got burned out. Sayang. They probably overtrained. Don’t get too consumed on the PR (Personal Record). Running should be fun and enjoyable. It should be a way of life. The feeling of excitement I have every time I pin the race number on my jersey every Saturday evening is still the same feeling I have the very first time I ran. It’s addictive!”

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.

Petron slams TNT’s Grand Slam

The Japanese poet Kenji Mijazawa once wrote: “We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey.” Figuratively, this was true for Talk N Text as Petron “burned them with their fuel.”

What a PBA finale! The drama started in Game One. The Talk N Text Tropang Texters, winners of the first two PBA conference finals, aimed to win the third and final leg. This victory would have given them a rare ‘Grand Slam.’ In the 36-year history of the oldest professional basketball league in Asia—the PBA—only Crispa, San Miguel, and Alaska have achieved a Grand Slam.

Talk N Text attempted. In Game 1, they won—and lost! Leading by a score of 84-75 with 5:11 left, the Texters also led by one point with three seconds left. But two-time MVP Danny Ildefonso calmly sank a 12-footer to win that crucial Game 1 for Petron. Score: 89-88.

Since that game two weeks ago, the PBA Governors Cup Finals has been a yo-yo, roller-coaster-ride-like series. TNT tied the contest, 1-all. They led 2-1. They trailed 2-3. Then, they equalized at 3-all.

Last Sunday, I watched Game 7. When I switched on the TV set, Petron led at the end of the first quarter, 28-17. They would not relinquish that lead. Even with Jimmy Alapag, the league MVP, dribbling the ball as point guard, the Tropang Texters trailed all the way. Even with MVP—that’s Manny V. Pangilinan—cheering from the bleachers, it wasn’t to be. Even with Monico Puentevella, the POC chairman, seated beside Mr. Pangilinan, history was not meant to be celebrated two nights ago.

Petron, fueled by a blaze, put a brake on TNT. Petron won Game 7, 85-73.

No loss is painless but this was excruciatingly painful for Talk N Text for several reasons. One, the rare Grand Slam bid was crushed. Two, they were expected to win. In the semifinal round, reports say that TNT purposely lost in one game to avoid a Final showdown with the Barangay Ginebra Kings. “Pinagbigyan nila kami at nagkamali sila,” said Ato Agustin, Petron’s head coach. Third, Petron had plenty of injured players: Jay Washington, Lordy Tugade, Rookie of the Year Rabeh Al-Hussaini, and Joseph Yeo.

The pressure, possibly, was too much for the Texters. Trailing in the 4th quarter but with plenty of time left, they hurriedly threw 3-point desperation shots. They were jittery, intimidated, startled. They panicked. I guess this was to be expected: when a year-long Grand Slam bid trickles down to the last few minutes, one plays petrified.

Petron? Petrified? No. The Blaze Boosters were relaxed and loose. They played to win—while TNT played not to lose. Petron’s import, Anthony Grundy, was dazzling. He top-scored with 26 points (after scoring just five in Game 6). But the best player was Mark Magsumbol. I mean… Arwind Santos, who looks like Mark Magsumbol. He scored 16 points. To top that, he rebounded 16 times! Imagine… 16 rebounds in one game. With 37 seconds left in the game, he even slammed the ball with two hands. That slam extinguished the Grand Slam dreams of TNT and MVP.

Why was this Petron team no lightweight compared to the heavyweight, TNT? It’s because this team’s DNA is spelled S-A-N  M-I-G-U-E-L. Yes. Starting only this season, San Miguel Beer relinquished its name (for the first time in PBA history) and gave way to the fuel company they own.

Good move. And so, while this was a “first” for the rookie Petron, this was also the 19th championship of the team owned by Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco, Jr. You can also conclude that, in a battle between sports titans (MVP v. Boss Danding), the older, more experienced sportsman won.

Ato Agustin is the happiest Filipino today. He scored one of the league’s all-time biggest upsets—and did it as a rookie PBA coach.

Above all, the biggest winners are the basketball fans. I, myself, admit to not watching closely the PBA. But with this series, I followed. It was a contrast in coaches, team owners, imports; an intriguing Grand Slam Quest versus Underdog’s Upset Try contest. In the end, between gasoline or SMS, fuel wins.

The good and the bad of the Aboitiz race

I joined the Aboitiz Race to Reduce Challenge two mornings ago. It was a good race. Good—but not great. I’ll explain why.

The Good? Including a full marathon. Apart from the Three-Sixty Pharmacy Kawasan Falls Marathon (organized by Dr. Potenciano “Yong” Larrazabal III) and the Cebu Marathon (held every second Sunday of January), the Aboitiz 42K is only the third full marathon distance in Cebu. This is advantageous to us. As more people run, the target post moves farther away. After joining an initial 5K, the next goal is a 10K… then 21K… then more…

The 42K is the ultimate distance (although 100K ultra-marathoners like Joel Garganera, Haide Acuña and Bro. Carlo Bacalla will disagree with that).

The bad? Aboitiz’s timing. While the Kawasan Falls Marathon announced their 42K distance many months ago, Aboitiz decided only recently. The Kawasan Falls Marathon was held last July 23; Aboitiz, last Sunday. Back-to-back 42Ks in three weeks is ridiculous. This “temptation” invites injury. There ought to be spacing in organizing 42Ks.

More good points… Seeing the CEO himself, Erramon “Monchu” Aboitiz, at the finish line. I’ve said this last year and I’ll write it again: How many of the big-named industry chieftains are willing to disrupt their Sunday 5 a.m. sleep to cheer-on the runners? Monchu, whom I spoke to last Sunday, is one of them. He stands out.

Other good marks include: the printing of a two-page advertisement yesterday, enlisting all the finishers with their finishing times. Thanks to Sebastian “Basti” Lacson, the Chief Reputation Officer of Aboitiz, for this idea (which, if I’m not mistaken, Basti got from a sporting event in Spain). This is admirable.

The high-quality Race Bib is tiptop. The use of timing chips—including the 5K—is exemplary. The offering of a lowered registration fee for a non-singlet—this is wise. “The Race to Reduce” tagline is put to use here.

The weather. Although it poured heavily past 9 a.m., at least for the 3K to 21K participants, the early-morning weather was perfect. Like last year, it rained at 2 a.m.—hours before the start.

The route for the 10K was desirable. It was flat. The orderly finish line area—complete with clocks for each category—was commendable. So were all the freebies at the finish (Gatorade plus bread, banana, candies and a hard-boiled egg).

THE BAD? With my 10K category, very minimal. I arrived at 4:45 a.m., a quarter-of-an-hour early. The first person to pat me on the back? My mom, Allen. I did not know she also registered the same 10,000-meter distance. Looking slim and fit, I have an embarrassing admission to make: I was once mistaken as the husband of my mom! Ouch. I hope this is a testament to her looking young instead to my “mature” looks.

While strolling about the race area 10 minutes before the published 5 a.m. race time, my mom and I were shocked when people started running. No countdown. No starting gun. No announcement. It was the start! And nobody knew. Plus, it was 10 minutes in advance. (I later saw Gerry Malixi; he arrived at the CICC at 4:55—only to see that everyone had left! He joined but was disappointed.)

But that was minor. The major, major BAD was the lack of water for the 42K. I spoke to many friends and they echoed the same complaint: on the second half of the 42K (that’s 21 kms. to go) there was no water! This is a cardinal sin in races.

Safety, above all, is important; but next is hydration—the availability of water. Runners had to resort to stopping-by carenderias to drink. (I had this same experience at the Quezon City Marathon two years ago and it’s the worst. Imaging the pain of running for 4 to 6 hours… aggravated by a super dry throat.)

Worse, at the finish line, 5-gallon containers full of water were stockpiled. Some finishers even sat on them! As to why these were not hurriedly dispatched, I don’t know.

This is a pity because this was an A-1 race organized by an A+ company. If only the word “Reduce” did not refer to water.

Cebu’s golf ace Irina Gabasa joins Vanderbilt U

(Photo by Manny Marcelo)

Back in 1873, one of America’s richest men, Cornelius Vanderbilt, the railroad and shipping magnate, decided to build a school. He named it Vanderbilt University. Today, it ranks as one of the best in the United States.

Irina Gabasa is going to Vanderbilt. On full scholarship. Thanks to golf.

Only 16 years old, Irina won the Philippine Amateur Golf Championship last year. Because of that heavyweight victory, the petite junior golfer who trains at the Alta Vista Golf & Country Club impressed a field of international coaches.
She received emails. Phone calls were logged. The A-list of American coaches wanted to know: Who is this golf phenomenon and where is she from, Cebu City, Phils?

At 11 P.M. tonight, Ms. Gabasa, together with her parents, Deo and Rowena, head for the Mactan airport, ready to fly to the land of Barack Obama.

“I’m excited and nervous,” said Irina, dark-tanned from all the sun exposure yet whose smile and pretty face forever radiate. “College will definitely be a new experience.”

She finished pre-school, elementary and high school at Bright Academy. I’m proud to say that my mom, Allen, founded and continues to run the school and that our family owns it.

Before choosing Vanderbilt, Irina was toured all over the mainland and courted by many of the top schools. Among those who offered scholarships were Univ. of Miami, Pepperdine Univ., Univ. of Georgia, Texas Christian University, Baylor Univ., Coastal Carolina, and Southern Methodist Univ.

But, after months of studying, visiting and, above all, praying, Team Gabasa picked the Nashville, Tennessee campus whose student population is 12,714.

“I chose Vanderbilt University because of its balance in Sports and Education,” said Irina, via email, two nights ago. “Not only is it a top 20 NCAA Division 1 golf team but it’s also part of the 20 best Universities in the U.S. Others call Vanderbilt the Ivy League of the South. Also, because of the coaches. They are great and can help me grow into a better golfer and person.”

As good timing for Irina’s choice, Vanderbilt will be hosting the National Championships this year in their home club.

Upon arrival this Wednesday at Vanderbilt, Irina will be welcomed like a sports star. She receives a full scholarship that includes free board and lodging, tuition, books, equipment. “Even our golf shoes are customized,” said Irina. “Via the website, they asked me to pick the designs and colors that I wanted.”

The Vanderbilt Women’s Golf team is composed of seven players. Five are returnees and only two are freshmen; Irina is the only one from Asia.

When did Irina begin to play this game of Annika Sorenstam and Lorena Ochoa? “I started at the age of seven,” she said. “My dad introduced me to the sport. I started playing competitively at the age of nine. I’ve never really had a constant coach aside from my dad. Whenever I have a coach, my dad is always there to implement whatever I learned.”

You can say “Like Father, Like Daughter.”

Irina with her parents, Deo and Rowena, and Mike Limpag, sports editor of SunStar Cebu

This 2011, she is ranked the # 17 junior in the whole of the United States. Wow!

Just two months ago, in a tour of the U.S. that was billed for Irina as a “college audition,” she joined the 30th Bubba Conlee National Junior Tournament, one of the most prestigious in the Mid-South.

Calmly, Irina birdied three of the final nine holes to finish with a 3-under 69. Her 54-hole total: 4-under 212. Irina won by two shots.

“It was a great achievement,” she said. “Through that victory, I was given the opportunity to play in AJGA (American Junior Golf Association) Invitational tournaments. This included the Rolex Tournament of Champions, Ping Invitational and The Thunderbird International Junior Championship.”

A Sportswriters Association of Cebu (SAC)-SMC Cebu Sports Awards major awardee from 2008 to 2011, Irina Gabasa is leaving Cebu tonight to conquer America tomorrow.

In a sport where six of the world’s Top 10 women golfers are Asian, who knows… the words “Filipina” and “from Cebu” might reach the leader-board.

Good luck, Irina!

Alan Choachuy: Big winner after losing 92 lbs.

One of the most famous bodies in all of Cebu is that of Alan Choachuy, all of 217 lbs. If you think that’s heavy and obese, consider this: Three months ago, he weighed 309 lbs. But, after eight weeks inside “The Biggest Loser Pinoy Edition,” he lost 62 lbs. Then, after getting ousted from the camp, he arrived in Cebu even more determined: he lost another 30 lbs.

Alan lost 92 lbs. in 10 weeks. “My goal is to weigh 180 lbs.,” he proclaimed.

The Biggest Loser contest? “I joined for fun,” he said. “How often can a fat guy like me get an opportunity to get into reality TV that has a good purpose: To be healthy!”

During the auditions, Alan, who turned 40 last February, was one of the last to enlist, lining up “very late in the afternoon while others lined up at dawn.”

How did he lose 62 lbs. in two months? “In the camp, I did cardio elliptical, stationary bike, running, boxing, spinning and strength training. But the most effective was the Metabolic workout by Coach Jim Saret; it’s a short intense workout that hits 70% of your max heart rate. Ex: the basic 10 jumping jacks, 10 squats, 10 push ups, 10 lunges but repeat as many as you can in 4 minutes and as fast as you can. Sounds simple but as you get to your second set you start to see stars. Haha! Increase number of minutes as you get stronger and faster or carry dumbbells etc.; it not only helps you lose weight, it helps you get fitter and stronger faster.”

When Alan left The Biggest Loser last July 25, he continued his fitness program. In fact, just last Monday morning, as I drove up to Ma. Luisa Park, I saw one man pedaling the mountain-bike. He was alone. He climbed the subdivision’s steepest part.

It was the ABS-CBN star. “That was a 1.5-hour bike ride,” he said. “I started at our house in Mandaue then went to Maria Luisa. I did three laps; it takes 10-12 minutes uphill to the main intersection then back downhill on the right side where a red Ferrari and yellow Porsche are parked. I chose Ma. Luisa because it’s a short but very steep uphill.” (On biking, years before he joined the TV show, Mr. Choachuy was popular among Cebuano bikers because of Big Al’s, a series of MTB events he sponsored from 2005 to 2007.)

With The Biggest Loser, Alan was highly-respected. “It was a great experience in the Camp, especially when I was treated like leader not only for the Blue team but for the entire group. Never in my life did I think that 16 people from different parts of the country would give me so much respect. And to think I am from Cebu.”

His motivation? “My wife, Caroline, and my kids, Carmichael, Carlisle, and Alana,” said Alan. “I want to grow old with my wife and don’t want to burden my children in the future because of my unhealthy lifestyle.”

He adds: “I also thank my dad, Alexander Choachuy Sr., where I learned my leadership characteristics. I have not thanked him enough and now I have chance to thank him and my Mom.”
On the quest for healthy living, Alan is not finished. When he e-mailed me his schedule, I thought it was Noy Jopson’s Camsur 70.3 Training Regimen.

Alan’s daily routine: Early mornings, he runs and bikes for up to 2.5 hours. In the afternoon, he’s at Fitness First for another 2.5-hours of strength-training, metabolic, and core exercises. “I work out between 3-5 hours a day,” he said. “My journey has not ended and have no plans to stop. Plan to run half-marathon in Sept. and maybe a full marathon in 2012. Also, planning on going back to triathlon, and soon, the Ironman; it’s easier to lose weight if you are preparing for an event.”

A full-time architect who, together with his associate, Archt. Peter Bordador (a Cebu Hall of Famer in football), works to change our perspective of homes and buildings, it was his own life outlook that was changed by The Biggest Loser.

“Not only am I healthy now but it gave me a new perspective in life. I learned that it is never too late to make a change… that before you change others, you should look yourself in the mirror.”

The Cebu Schools Athletic Foundation, Inc.

Metro Manila has two dominant collegiate leagues: the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).

The UAAP started in 1938; the NCAA, even earlier, in 1924. At the UAAP, the schools include UP, UE, UST, NU, Ateneo, La Salle, FEU and Adamson. In the NCAA, the list has San Sebastian, PCU, Letran, Arellano, Mapua, San Beda and JRU. (Why the two leagues won’t merge so that the champion is the true winner of collegiate sports, I don’t know.)

Here in Cebu, we only have one league. Previously, it was named CAAA. Those letters stood for Cebu Amateur Athletics Association. But, starting 11 years ago, a new group was formed. Today, all the big-named universities join the CESAFI.

In basketball, last year was the most memorable. For the first time, a school not named University of the Visayas was crowned the champion. For the first nine years of CESAFI, the school owned by Dodong and Eddie Gullas won the grand prize.

But last year, the University of Cebu, captained by founder Gus Go, snatched the title away from UV. “We’ve been trying to win all these years,” said Atty. Go to me last October. “But we always could not win in basketball. Finally, we made it!”

In the high school (juniors) division, last season was just as monumental. After losing by 151 points in one game the previous year (score: 178-23), the Cebu Eastern College Baby Dragons spewed fire on the opponents. Last October 10 (that’s the date 10-10-10), CEC achieved the unachievable by pocketing the championship, thanks to their alumni led by the Cebu Province “Garbo sa Sugbu” awardee Chester Cokaliong. That’s last season.

What’s new starting today, when the 2011-2012 season begins at 12 noon with a mass? “The new president of CESAFI is Fr. Enrico Peter Silab, OAR,” said CESAFI commissioner Felix “Boy” Tiukinhoy. “He is the president of USJR. He will be serving for one term.”

Today’s Opening will be different: instead of just basketball players parading the Cebu Coliseum, the players from the different sports will join.

“The reason for just one opening is to save on cost for gym expenses and costumes for the Palabas,” said Tiukinhoy. “The Palabas for the schools will be ‘free for all’ dance numbers so that the school can choose their numbers and costumes at affordable costs.”

The theme for 2011? “Reviving Ecology through Sports and Academic Excellence.”

Another addition is the choice of a Mr. CESAFI. While the previous opening acts had a Ms. CESAFI (I’ve had the privilege of being a judge on two occasions), today is the first time a collegiate male student will win the prize. “The winner for the college Mr. and Ms. CESAFI,” said Tiukinhoy, “will be the CESAFI candidates for the PRISAA.”

In basketball, seven college teams will join: UC, SWU, USC, UV, USJ-R, CIT and USP-F. In high school, there are nine: CEC, CIT, UV, DBTC, USC, UC, SHS-ADC, USJ-R and USP-F.

All games will be held at the Cebu Coliseum. The schedule? Every Tuesday and Thursday, the first of two games begin at 5:15 P.M. On Saturdays and Sundays, the first of four games start at 1 P.M.

Tickets are inexpensive: General Admission is P20 while the most expensive, Lower Box, is P60. Best of all: students with IDs get 50% off.

Today, the first game pits CEC against UV. Then, for college, it’s USJ-R against the defending champs, UC.

What else is new? Boy Cabahug, who led UV to nine straight trophies as the head coach, will be missed. He was abruptly discharged after his school’s first-ever loss. Taking over is Felix Belano. Also new but forever-known as the most famous coach of Vis-Min is Raul “Yayoy” Alcoseba. The Cebu City Councilor will mentor the team that’s acknowledged as this year’s most intimidating: SWU.

My prediction? Nobody taller will reign than the remaining Twin Tower of Cebu. No, he’s not Greg Slaughter—that 7-footer has since shifted from UV green to Ateneo blue.

Our Dirk Nowitzki? Junmar Fajardo, 6’10”.

The Cup of Davis returns to the City of Lapu-Lapu

Cecil Mamiit and Treat Huey

Tennis, like boxing, is one on one. When Rafa plays Roger, it’s like Pacquiao-Marquez. No other person, except that referee, is inside that court or boxing ring. Mano-a-mano. That’s boxing. Like the game Djokovic plays.

But Davis Cup is different. It’s team against team. It’s country versus nation. Coaches are allowed. It’s one’s national anthem pitted against another’s national flag.

This September, it’s back. D.C. RETURNS. After a six-month hiatus when our players with the same Filipino blood named Huey and Mamiit battled against the Japanese warriors, DC volleys back.

This time, it’s Philippines versus Chinese-Taipei. The date: Sept. 16, 17 and 18. That’s a weekend of sunny skies, 123-mph ace serves, Plantation Bay bikini-clad sexy girls, and, yes, hopefully, a victory lap for Team PHL.

Mayor Paz Radaza ought to be applauded. Same with Councilor Harry Radaza. This auntie-and-nephew tandem has, in just 13 months since they’ve been together in public office in this political term… they’ve overthrown CamSur as our sports capital. Davis Cup last March. Davis Cup next month. Manny Pacquiao inside the Hoops Dome, serenading the Cebuanos—for free! AJ Banal and Michael Domingo, besting their visitors, also at the Hoops Dome. Tri Lapu-Lapu 113 in December. Sports and Tourism are one in this city made famous by our first Filipino hero, Datu Lapu Lapu.

Randy Villanueva, the Vice-President of the Philippine Tennis Association (Philta) and the administrator for the Davis Cup, himself deserves an ovation. Though residing in Manila throughout his young life, his family hails from Cebu. That’s why he’s bringing DC to Sugbu.

Without Randy’s push, this event—which started in 1900 as a friendly between the U.S. and Britain and is now the largest team sport on earth—will not be held here.

Plantation Bay Resort and Spa, led by “The best General in Cebu,” according to Nimrod Quiñones of The Freeman (that’s General Manager Efren Belarmino), is once again hosting the Davis Cup.

Ken Salimbangon, the founder of the Cebu International Tennis Centre, and Jess Lagman, the Regional VP for Philta, are key organizers next month.

What’s new when we encounter the Taiwanese?

First, the ticket prices: only P200/day or P500 for the weekend. That’s inexpensive.

Two: It’s desperation time. What I mean is this: This DC tie is crucial because it’s the last stop for the Group 1 teams. If we lose, we get downgraded to Group 2. If we beat the Taiwanese, we stay in the upper bracket.

Why is Group 1 important? If this were a ladder, this is the last hurdle prior to the vaunted World Group, where the top 16 nations in the world compete. The likes of Nadal and Djokovic? Yes, of course, Spain and Serbia are in the World Group.

Japan? The nation that defeated us five months ago? They’re playing India next month to enter the World Group. In a draw of lots, they could have faced a country like Switzerland. And we know the Swiss No.1, right?

Theoretically, had we beaten the Japanese and drew the Swiss… Roger Federer could be visiting Plantation Bay next month! (Imagine the excitement of British Honorary Consul Moya Jackson…)

But back to reality: It’s the Taiwanese next month. Is this team strong? Yes. If Yen-Hsun Lu arrives at the MCIAA next month, we’re in trouble. Ranked 67 in the world, he is Asia’s No. 1. At Wimbledon last year, Lu reached the quarterfinals (the first Asian to do so in 15 years) and defeated the strongest server on earth, Andy Roddick. Their 4-6, 7-6, 7-6, 6-7, 9-7 match took 4 hours and 36 minutes.

I’ve watched Lu. At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Jasmin and I saw him play Andy Murray in the first round. After Murray lost the first set, we moved to another court, thinking Murray would recover. We were wrong. Lu won, 7-6, 6-4. So, bad news if Lu arrives. His teammates? Also good: Tsung-Hua Yang, a former junior No.1, who is ranked No. 250. There’s Ti Chen, world no. 331. These guys are good—but beatable.

See you next month!