By Vartan Kupelian, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent
Believe it. Embrace it. And it will happen.
Through the good and the bad, that has been Esteban Toledo’s mantra. He believed that there would be a breakthrough. He never wavered despite having the odds stacked against him.
There is a lesson in that for everybody.
Toledo, playing on an exemption through June, was determined not to let his Champions Tour aspirations end there. He said so because he believed it. It certainly didn’t hurt that he knew he was playing some fine golf at the start of the 2013 Champions Tour season.
There were a couple of near misses, most notably at the Greater Gwinnett Championship. He failed to get it done in Georgia but it didn’t shake his resolve.
Two Sundays later, Toledo had his first victory at the Insperity Championship. Toledo rallied from 7 shots back with a final-round 67 to get into a playoff and eventually defeated Mike Goodes and Gene Sauers.
“I knew that if I work hard and if I practice from 8 in the morning until 5:30 in the afternoon, that's my time,” Toledo said. “Sooner or later, I'm just going to win. David Frost told me that, Trevino told me that. All these guys keep telling me. John Mahaffey came over and said, 'if you keep swinging like the way you're swinging, you're going to win soon.' I guess he was right.
“I believe in people who believe in me.”
The first of five Champions Tour major championships is this week’s Senior PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis. Roger Chapman is the defending champion and his victory last year at Harbor Shores Golf Club in Michigan was a major upset.
It’s the kind of performance that gives all longshots hope. Toledo isn’t quite the outsider anymore. He’s played too much good golf and has had too many positive results – including four top-10 finishes in his last five events, topped by the win at The Woodlands which made him the first player from Mexico to win on the Champions Tour. The victory came on Cinco de Mayo. How’s that for fate?
Toledo began the season with a respectable T13 at the Allianz Championship. The upward climb began in earnest at the Toshiba Classic, on his home course at Newport Beach Country Club. There, he tied for sixth – the first of four top 10s in the next five events.
But the performance at the Toshiba Classic wasn’t all roses. Toledo’s older brother, Mario, 56, died on the eve of the tournament.
“I promised my brother that I was going to win for him,” Toledo said at the Insperity Championship.
Toledo was in Los Cabos playing golf with friends when he learned of the passing.
“I was going to skip the Toshiba Classic but my family pushed me and my wife pushed me to go back to Newport Beach and play, play for him, and my whole family in México supported me for that,” Toledo said. “I went back and did it and that's when I started playing really well, I finished with three Top 10s in the last four weeks.
“It was tough for me, losing a brother but at the same time, I have goals and dreams in my life. I couldn't do anything for him and it's a little tough for me, but I promised him something and I did it.”
With the victory, Toledo thrust himself into the Charles Schwab Cup discussion. He earned 270 points at the Insperity Championship to move up 11 spots to No. 6 on the points list.
Toledo’s confidence has grown and it peaked at The Woodlands. He started the final round with a mountain to climb but, by Toledo’s life standards, it was a small mountain.
“I told my wife that I was going to go out and shoot a 66 and catch up with them,” he said. “And I shoot 67. I guess that was good enough, but I was very focused on the game all day long. I was smiling to the crowd. I was thinking about how Lee (Trevino) plays and Fuzzy. When I got to the 18th hole, I was so nervous and I hit a driver right down the center.
“I was very in control of my game all day long … and in the playoff, it was the same. My caddie said, 'I can't believe it; I've never seen you so focused on the game before. The more pressure it gets to you, it seems like you hit it straighter and better.' But I never lost confidence, never lost focus. I don't know why, I guess it was meant to be.”
Toledo’s failure to win on the PGA TOUR bothered him for a long time but maybe not quite so much anymore.
“I was very disappointed,” he said. “I played with Tiger three times and twice in the final day, and lost to (Brad) Faxon in New York. It bothers me, I always wanted to play the Masters, I played for so long out there.”
What’s next for Toledo?
“I have dreams and goals in my life that I was going to win on the Champions Tour, and I think I'm going to keep winning,” he said. “I believe in myself that I can go up there and win again and again and again.”
Believe it. Embrace it.