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    • Insider: Alvarado strives to inspire younger golfers in Chile

    • Benjamin Alvarado won the Brasil Classic Presented by HSBC in 2013. Benjamin Alvarado won the Brasil Classic Presented by HSBC in 2013.

    When Benjamin Alvarado made his career choice, he didn’t just take the road less traveled.

    As a Chilean going into professional golf, he chose a road not traveled at all.

    Chile, as with all of South America, revolves around soccer first when it comes to sports passions. While the golf world is building momentum toward the sport returning to the Olympics in 2016 in Brazil, South Americans will be more focused on futbol – that is, after the all-important World Cup this summer in Brazil.

    But as this week’s Web.com Tour Chile Classic indicates (followed next week by the Brasil Champions presented by HSBC), golf’s foothold is getting continually stronger.

    “This is a great opportunity for Chileans to watch the best players in the world, and that helps a lot for growing the sport in the country,” Alvarado said. “In terms of organization, the Chile Classic is one of the big, great events of the year in terms of fans and spectators.”

    No doubt that many of those spectators this week will make a beeline for Alvarado, the face of the sport in Chile. And for the 28-year-old, the event at Prince of Wales Country Club isn’t just a home game, it’s where his career turned the corner a year ago.

    At the 2013 Chile Classic, Alvarado finished tied for fourth, which earned him an invitation to play the following month in Brazil. That turned into a dream week with a win, and that $121,500 payday pushed him into a finish in The 25 for the Regular Season, thereby making him the first Chilean to earn a PGA TOUR card.

    “This event gave me a lot,” Alvarado said. “The Chile Classic is a big open window for a Chilean to have a chance to get the next level, and why not have the opportunity to win the tournament and get the same chance I had last year.”

    Sometimes it just takes one break. Camilo Villegas, Colombia’s golf icon, got a sponsor exemption to play the Web.com Tour event in Panama in January 2005, finished in a tie for second and changed his fortunes as pro.

    “That changed my whole year,” recalled Villegas, 32. “I thought I might get some exemptions on the PGA TOUR but I thought my best road to get on TOUR was to stay and play the Web.com Tour and focus on my play here.”

    Villegas went on to record eight more top 10s on the Web.com Tour in 2005, earning his card for the 2006 PGA TOUR season, where he finished second twice and won $1.7 million. Two years later, he would win twice and establish himself as one of the game’s top young stars.

    Alvarado has his TOUR card but a knee injury has kept him from fully taking advantage, he didn’t play on the Web.com Tour last year after July and won’t make his first PGA TOUR start as a member until the Valero Texas Open at the end of March. He played last month in the Web.com Tour opener in Colombia but missed the cut.

    “He’s a little behind because he hasn’t gotten to play yet (on TOUR), but I know when he gets out there he will play well and have a good year,” Villegas said of Alvarado. “To me, the most important thing is to stay clear with your goals.

    “My goal was to win and I thought that was a realistic goal from the beginning. Benjamin has to set his goals and try to avoid distractions. He has some experience already, he was a great college player and had a chance to play on the Web.com Tour and now he’s moving to a bigger stage. He has to continue to believe in himself.”

    For Alvarado, who made enough of an impression as a young golfer to play collegiately at Arizona State, believing in himself has never been a problem. It can’t be when your homeland isn’t golf-rich and, as he said, many of the top courses were private when he learned the game.

    The hard part was just getting started, taking the road less traveled. Now, Alvarado hopes he can start reaping the personal rewards while also playing a role in helping the game in his homeland.

    “I hope I can help grow this beautiful sport in my country and make a great impact on kids,” he said. “We are so far away from the U.S., and so far to think that playing with the best players in the world is possible -- now I want to show them that it is.”

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