It was 17 years ago that a young Ariel Cañete made his first venture onto the Web.com Tour. Call it short-lived.
The Argentine cashed just one paycheck in seven starts to begin that 1996 season, breaking par twice in 16 rounds. By late May, he was gone.
“It was tough,” Cañete recalls now.
And that’s where his Web.com Tour bio may have ended. The soft-spoken journeyman was happy to carve out a career wherever the game might take him – first on the South American circuit, later turning his attention to Europe for nearly a decade.
Last year, though, brought a wind shift. With fewer starts coming his way in Europe, Cañete stepped away to try his luck on the new PGA TOUR Latinoamérica. He wound up atop the Tour’s inaugural Order of Merit, propelled by two wins and four other top-5 finishes.
Though it doesn’t exactly fit the definition of full circle, Cañete finds himself right back where he was a generation ago. Perhaps this time, at a different stage of life, he’ll manage to stick around a while.
"I’ve been hoping to play well here,” said Cañete, who owns two top-15 finishes in nine starts. “Now it seems like it’s easier to travel, to live. … I’m 38 now, and I’m enjoying what I’m doing with my family. That makes me happy.”
With a wife and young daughter, the timing couldn’t have been better. Though travel is a necessary byproduct of any touring pro’s career, distances on the Web.com Tour generally are more compact. Fewer passports are required.
And even when the Tour plays outside the United States, such as this week’s Mexico Championship, there isn’t that ocean to deal with.
“With a baby, it’s not easy,” said Cañete, who last month brought wife Lorena and 3-year-old Mia to their new digs near Miami Beach.
At No. 60 on the money list, Cañete still has some work ahead to claim a place in the top 25 and lock up PGA TOUR promotion via the regular season. But he’s certainly in the mix for one of the 75 spots in the four-event Finals, where another 25 cards are available.
He also remains head of the class among PGA TOUR Latinoamérica graduates. Mexico’s Oscar Fraustro is 67th in earnings; fellow Argentine Clodomiro Carranza stands No. 69.
“It was a good experience for me,” Cañete said. “I have a lot of friends over there. After you finish competition – it didn’t feel like home, but it felt pretty good.”
Cañete, whose 5-foot-7 stature earned him the nickname “El Corto” in his homeland, had made a comfortable living in Europe as well, with more than $1.6 million in earnings between the regular circuit and developmental Challenge Tour.
The highlight came in 2007, when he accepted a late invitation to the inaugural Joburg Open in South Africa and wound up winning the event. A birdie/birdie finish broke a deadlock with Andrew McLarty for his first victory outside his homeland.
That earned him a two-year European Tour exemption. However, shoulder problems set in the following year, eventually requiring surgery in 2009. Though he received a medical extension for 2010, he was unable to retain his card.
By early last year, Cañete’s status had fallen to the point where he found himself on the wrong side of too many entry cutoffs. Clearly, a change was in order.
“It’s expensive to go over there when you don’t have too many tournaments to play,” he said. “I decided to stay in Argentina, and then [PGA TOUR] Latinoamérica came along.”
Cañete finished third in the Tour’s inaugural event, the Mundo Maya Open, then ended his five-year winless drought by winning the following week in Monterrey, Mexico. When he won the Olivos Golf Classic in the season’s penultimate week, he clinched the Order of Merit crown.
“I wasn’t really thinking of [the Web.com Tour promotion],” he said. “I just figured if it comes, it’s great.”
Getting settled on the Web.com Tour has taken a little time. He missed the cut in three of the season’s first four events, finally breaking free with a share of 15th at the Brasil Classic. Three weeks later, he tied for 11th at the South Georgia Classic.
Cañete admits that adjusting to unfamiliar courses has been tougher than he expected.
“When you know the course, it’s different,” he said. “I’m getting more comfortable day by day. I’m not thinking about things too much, just trying to play day by day. … If you’re thinking too much, it puts extra pressure on yourself. That’s not good.”
It’s a philosophy that Cañete adopted a few years ago, as he suffered through the ups and downs of coming back from shoulder surgery.
“Maybe you try too hard and push your luck,” he said, “and when you don’t get results it [winds up in] frustration. It’s extra pressure, and that’s not good. You’re not happy. And you have to be happy out here.”
Right now, Cañete can live with the results. But he’s clearly happy with the change of direction that has brought him closer to home and family.