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Campos: Puerto Rico feeling normal again after hurricane

5 Min Read


    Written by Adam Stanley @adam_stanley

    “This is so bad.”

    That was the first reaction from Rafa Campos when he returned to Puerto Rico in December, 2017. Hurricane Maria had ripped through his homeland a few months earlier, causing nearly $100 billion in damages.

    Then Campos, like many of his fellow Puerto Ricans, got to work.

    They fixed what they could. They reconnected with old friends. They rebuilt. They started smiling again. This week’s return of the Puerto Rico Open as an official PGA TOUR event is another thing on the calendar that makes Puerto Rico feel normal again.

    “People stayed with the idea that we could do it again. It’s a great thing to have it back,” Campos said of the tournament. “It took a really long time, but you cannot tell, really, that a hurricane came by at this point. It took a year-and-a-half, but things are back to normal.”

    Due to the hurricane, last year’s Puerto Rico Open was turned into an unofficial charity pro-am event to raise money for the recovery efforts. This year it returns as an official event for the 11th time – and Campos has never missed a start.

    His best result came in 2016 when he finished T-8 (and led after the first round), then backed that up in 2017 with a T-10. He parlayed that top-10 finish into two more starts on TOUR, finishing 7th at the Houston Open the next week and T-32 at the RBC Heritage two weeks later.

    Campos won on the Tour earlier this year in the Bahamas – becoming the first Puerto Rican to win on that Tour – and hasn’t yet missed a cut in 2019. He’s on track to earn a PGA TOUR card for the first time, and he hopes to join Chi Chi Rodriguez as the only Puerto Rico natives as winners on TOUR.

    He waves the Puerto Rican flag as both a source of joy and motivation.

    With his Tour win, Campos said he got goosebumps thinking a junior Puerto Rican golfer who might have seen him raise that trophy might now pursue golf.

    It’s been difficult, he acknowledged, to do clinics and help out junior golfers without having a victory to his name.

    “I thought kids might say, ‘He’s working hard but he’s not pulled through,’ and I want to be an example for them,” he said. “Now that I’ve finally won, I can’t wait to go back and help more.”

    Campos is a fixture helping juniors in his homeland, noting the increased talent level on the island. He sees many Puerto Rican juniors with potential, and wishes he could have had the talent they have now when he was their age.

    His ultimate dream is to have 10 or 15 of his countrymen playing with him at the PGA TOUR or Tour level one day.

    “If I have a bad week or miss a cut, I want to stay at a tournament and be rooting for another Puerto Rican,” he said.

    Rooting for other Puerto Ricans is something that comes naturally for Campos. The hurricane 18 months ago was one example where residents banded together, helping each other get through one of the worst natural disasters in history.

    Campos had just finished up the Tour season that September and visited his brother in Miami for a few days with the hurricane about to blow through. A family friend was willing to lend him his private plane to get home – the only way people could have got in or out of the island – but his parents told Campos not to come.

    “My parents said, ‘Don’t even think about coming. It’s just a burden. You’re not going to be able to do anything,’” Campos recalled.

    He remained in Miami for a week before heading to the Dominican Republic, where his parents have a home, and stayed there for three months.

    When he went back to Puerto Rico for the first time that mid-December, he saw how bad the island was. He was scared.

    “But everyone was saying, ‘This is as good as it can be,’” Campos recalled. “I can’t imagine what they went through because no one was really prepared.”

    Campos said rough weather makes a yearly appearance, and every couple of years a hurricane touches down. People would be without power for a few weeks, and they would load up on essentials. But no one thought it would be nearly seven months before, for example, they could go to a gas station without a huge line.

    “It was devastating,” Campos said.

    But he also saw kids playing outside. He got nostalgic, thinking of when he was young, before cell phones and digital distractions, when he would be outside too. At his apartment on the weekends, all his neighbors would have a bonfire and eat and drink and get to know each other better.

    The best part of the hurricane, he said, is that everyone got together to work and help other people.

    Eighteen months later, Campos says the Puerto Rican culture and pride is as strong as ever. They recovered together and they’re looking to the future together.

    “Everybody helped everybody, which was unbelievable, because it was bad. I mean, it was really bad,” he said. “People love the island and we understand that we’re the ones who grow (tourism on) the island, so we had to get it back quick.”

    Campos will again carry the weight of his homeland on his shoulders but based on the love and support the Puerto Rican people have shown over the last 18 months, he won’t really be alone out there.

    “More people are excited back home. It’s an event where they could go out, see golf, and at the same time, they know we’re all working towards promoting the island,” Campos said. “The island is back to normal. And it looks great.”