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.”

Categorized as Golf

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.

Categorized as Golf

DepEd is late for class

Last Sunday, I wrote about the Palarong Pambansa. I posed the question: Why did they give the first-time hosts — the Province of Antique — only five months to prepare? This April 23, the Palaro will gather 12,000 high school and elementary athletes in one venue. Why was Antique only informed last Nov. 18 that they’d be hosting the country’s largest sports meet? Five short months to prepare the venues, including the new rubberized track oval (which is still being worked-on); the billeting, the transportation, the food…

It turns out, this practice is not only being practiced this 2017. Last year in Albay, when the Palaro was held in April, the hosts were told only six months earlier in October. The formal signing of the MOA was done in January, just three months prior to the gun start. In 2015, the same thing: with the event in Tagum, Davao del Norte (May 3 to 9), they were informed in Dec. 15 — just over four months to prepare. And in 2014, the announcement was made in Oct. 2013 for Laguna to host the games starting May 10, 2014.

“The Palaro is held in April or May,” said Mars G. Alison, a good friend and fellow sportswriter who writes for Rappler. “Maybe DepEd should already be able to make a decision on who will be the next host on the last day of the Palaro for early preparation.”

I agree with Mars. The Department of Education (DepEd) is the lead government agency that handles the Palaro. They have a Selection Committee who gathers to evaluate the various bids. Whether this committee decides six months prior — or two years earlier — it’s the same selection process. Why not decide earlier?

“They (DepEd) should be proactive because the Palaro is their pinnacle event,” added Ms. Alison. “It is a competition among the best of the best student athletes from all the regions. I mean, let’s say they make the host announcement in May, so by June, they can already accept bids for the next host and do inspections and then by the next Palaro, make the announcement. It should be that early if they want to give a chance for small provinces to host. It entails a lot of preparation. Besides, there’s already a pattern as the hosting rotates from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.”

Consider San Jose, Antique, the hosts for the Palaro which will start in 17 days. With a population of 35,000, they’re not as large as, say, their Panay neighbors like Kalibo, Iloilo or Roxas.

“I think the problem in Antique will be the billeting,” said Mars Alison, who will be making her fourth Palaro trip later this month. “They are expecting 12,000 delegates from 18 regions. I don’t know if all delegations will be accommodated in schools. There were talks about a tent city. Right now, the temperature is unbearable so I am not sure if this is a good idea.. And, what about the parents? Even the media right now is being referred to home stays. And, how about their water supply? I mean, during the Palaro days, the number of people using water will double. This is a problem that has happened in the past Palaro.”

Coming soon: reply from DepEd.

Old is the new New

(Photo source: AP)

Roger Federer is 35. Every day for the past three decades, he’s been swinging at that yellow orb, sprinting for dropshots, smashing a towering lob, punishing his 187-lb. body. How is it possible that the Swiss is able to produce that crosscourt backhand winner or strut and glide like MJ on the hardcourt given his grandfather-like age?

It’s called experience. Age is the price of wisdom. Through the years, Federer has been able to pace himself well. He doesn’t play every Tuesday to Monday. He understands his body; he listens to the only God-given, flesh-and-bones machine that he operates, and he doesn’t overplay. Especially the last few years since he’s breached thirty, he chooses to vie only for the big trophies.

His fluid, relaxed and graceful game is to be credited. He glides like a Michael Martinez. Effortless. Smooth. If you were to train an 11-year-old the ABCs of T, look to nobody else but RF. In a 19-year pro career, he also rarely gets injured. And when he does, we know what happens. Last year, while helping his twin girls in the bathroom, he twisted his knee which resulted in him having to undergo arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn meniscus. What did Roger do? He quit tennis for six months. Physically and mentally, he pressed pause. Normally, after such a long layoff, one’s comeback would be rusty. Not RF. At the Australian Open last January, he won Major #18.

That triumph over his tormentor Rafael Nadal, when he was down 1-3 in the fifth set of the final, was the clincher. That win boosted his conviction. Before that victory (when he had not won a Grand Slam title in 4.5 years), his biggest win was being named GQ’s Most Stylish Man for 2016. People said he was decrepit. Some called for his retirement so he could spend more time with this twin set of twins.

Feeling rejuvenated, he was a rabid dog unleashed. The elderly felt young and born again. He has since changed to a larger 97-inch-head Wilson racket. And his backhand! What used to be his only weakness has now transformed into an offensive slingshot. That Rafa-forehand-to-Roger’s-backhand combination used to be painful to watch. Now, it’s become a cannon. He serve-and-volleys, attacks the net, slices; he’s an artist weaving his craft on Nikes. And the Swiss is no longer afraid of the Spaniard. After the Oz Open, RF won Indian Wells, and now, in Miami, lifting a prize he hasn’t carried since 2006 when he defeated — with a sweet twist of irony here — his coach, Ivan Ljubicic. He’s at 19-1 this year and 7-0 against the Top 10.

“I’m moving up in the (rankings) and I just want to stay healthy,” Federer said. “When I’m healthy and feeling good, I can produce tennis like this… It would be great to be No. 1 again, but it’s a long way away.” 

Can RF, who last climbed the summit of Tennisdom in Nov. 2012, ascend to become No.1 again? In military lingo, I say: Roger that.

Palarong Pambansa

The Palarong Pambansa is our National Games. It’s that annual congregation of “the best of the best” in the elementary and high school divisions. Over 10,000 girls and boys representing 18 regions gather to compete in over 20 sports disciplines that range from archery to baseball to sepak takraw to taekwondo.

The Palaro started in 1948. Minus a few years when it was cancelled (in 1972, for example, during Martial Law), this year will be the 60th edition. It will be held three weeks from today (from April 23 to 29) in the Province of Antique.

I recall the two times that my daughter Jana Marie joined. She had to undergo a series of tennis contests to qualify: the unit meet, the district meet, the city meet, the provincial meet, the CVIRAA (regionals), until finally you join the nationals (Palaro). It’s rigorous. In her final year of elementary, we went to Dipolog City and, a few years later in high school, it was the 2014 Palaro hosted by Laguna.

The entire week is a sports carnival: You arise at 5 a.m., compete at 10, watch the 100-meter sprinters in the track oval; you play again at 3 p.m. then converge with thousands of others to mingle, buy souvenirs and eat local delicacies. It’s our Olympics — for elementary and high school athletes.

Why this talk of the Palaro? First, because this is a first for Antique. “We are so happy that after 60 years, Palarong Pambansa will be held in our province,” said Eric Otayde, representing Antique. “It is our chance to show the whole country the best things Antique could offer.”

Second reason: I was born in Iloilo and my wife’s mom, Malu Gayanilo Mendez, comes from Guimbal, a nearby 67 kms. from the main site in San Jose, and she speaks fluent Kinaray-a.

Now, as happy as I am that the venue is in Panay, I’m also anxious for the the municipality of San Jose, the capital of Antique. I’m concerned for San Jose not simply because they’re not as large as, say, Bacolod (the city which has hosted the most Palaro games at five times) or Tacloban (a three-time host), or because it’s Antique’s first — I’m troubled by their lack of preparation time to organize such a massive endeavor.

Given that the Palaro will invite over 10,000 athletes, plus thousands more of coaches, officials, and parents, do you know how much time they were given to prepare?

Five months only! They were told last November 18 and given only five short months to get ready for the nation’s largest sports meet. That’s incredible. More next week..