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.”

Categorized as Golf

In golf, the hero is Bayani


Bayani (far right) with his CCC teammates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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.”

Categorized as Golf

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.

Categorized as Golf

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.”

Categorized as Golf

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.

Categorized as Golf

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.”