Gratitude takes top honors as PGA TOUR Latinoamérica provides home away from home
Tour rookie’s heartfelt email speaks volumes for grateful majority
October 26, 2015
By Doug Milne, PGATOUR.COM
- October 26, 2015
- Keith Mitchell of St. Simons Island, Georgia is one of several rookies this season on PGA TOUR Latinoamérica. (Enrique Berardi/PGA TOUR)
In This Article
MEXICO CITY, Mexico – On September 29 of this year, two days after losing in a playoff at the Brazil Open, PGA TOUR Latinoamerica rookie Keith Mitchell sat down and wrote an email to PGA TOUR Latinoamérica President Jack Warfield.
“I wanted to take this time to thank you and your staff for such a great event in Brazil. Your team is top notch, and their care towards the players is undeniable,” Mitchell began. “Playing down in Latin America was stepping out of a lot of the players’ comfort zones. But, with the people like yourself, your staff and the favors and sacrifices you all give to the players, it has become one of the best experiences of our lives.”
When you close your eyes, it sounds the same. When you open them, it looks the same. The sound the ball makes coming off the club face and the image of the swing which produces that connection is a sensory combination which transcends Tours.
But unlike most scenarios on the PGA TOUR, out here there is little – if anything – to fall back onto. There are no safety nets. As such, fairways on PGA TOUR Latinoamérica seem more narrow, holes smaller. In a place where a dollar is stretched a long way, so too is thick skin required to withstand the residual of pressure, loneliness and uncertainty. When you can rise from those ashes and still burn, the results are tantamount.
“I see a lot of kids who are really scared the first time they come to play PGA TOUR Latinoamérica,” said Tournament Administration Manager Claudio Rivas. “It’s their first time being away from home and you get emails from their moms and dads. Of course, they’re frightened too. It’s a family’s first experience with something like this.”
A machine with countless moving parts perpetually in motion, the success of PGA TOUR Latinoamérica is qualified more by the proverbial players off the course than by the actual players on it. Understanding of and sympathetic to the literal and figurative foreign ground many of these players are on, the staff of PGA TOUR Latinoamérica don many different hats, ranging from tournament administrators and operators to player relations, sounding boards and family-away-from family.
“Letting seven of us take the staff's bus back to the hotel on Friday was much appreciated, but sending me to the airport alone to make my flight is something I will never forget,” Mitchell’s email continued. “The fact that Claudio, Laura, John, Jose, Taylor, Matt, and yourself gave up hours of your time after a long day of work to get me to the airport shows how much character and respect each of you have.”
Mitchell’s story and attitude encompass collectively those of so many who have chosen to compete out here.
After graduating from the University of Georgia in 2014, Mitchell turned professional and attempted Q-School for the Web.com Tour. When that endeavor didn’t go as hoped, the decision was to try and compete full time on PGA TOUR Latinoamérica.
“I knew if I came down to PGA TOUR Latinoamérica, I had a chance to make the Web.com Tour next year,” said Mitchell. “So, I went to Buenos Aires for Q-School, not knowing any Spanish at all. I played well and made it.”
With that, disguised doors opened for Mitchell he never knew were even there.
“If it wasn’t for this Tour, I would never have had the chance to visit any of these countries,” he explained. “It has opened my eyes to a lot of things I would have otherwise never seen or learned. My passport had one stamp in it. Now, it has, like, 70. Without this Tour, I wouldn’t have any of this.”
Mitchell’s leap of faith is proving to be giant step forward. In 12 starts thus far into his rookie season on PGA TOUR Latinoamérica, he has amassed five top-10 finishes, highlighted by the playoff loss in Brazil. He currently sits at No. 11 on the money list.
In a sport that demands repetition and consistency, on PGA TOUR Latinoamérica, there is little of either en route to the first tee each week.
“Succeeding in these conditions…. different time zones every week, different countries and languages, different grasses, climates and caddies has prepared me and my game better than I could be getting anywhere else,” said Mitchell.
“Keith came down to South America for the first time and was lost,” said Rivas. “But, he adapted so fast and is really enjoying what he is doing. He knows this is a stage in his life, so he is growing a lot. He cares about his experience down here and cares about us. He’s special.”
“You guys are truly a blessing to the players,” Mitchell’s email continued. “This Tour would not be what it is without each and every one of you.”
“What we do out here is prepare the players for the next level,” Rivas said. “On this Tour, the players get a lot of travel and a lot of culture. They know how to depend on themselves and learn a lot. What is great about this Tour is that the players gain a lot of great experience. Much of it is travelling and knowing how to conduct themselves around different cultures and ways of life.”
“What this Tour does is teach you how to get a travelling game,” said Australia’s Jake Younan. “It does you no good if you’re just good at your home course. You have to learn different shots, play different grasses, deal with different climates. It all comes into play. It’s all part of the learning experience you get out here.”
“There are no constants here, considering we’re changing countries pretty much every week,” said American Nate Lashley. “It’s a great experience. I’ve played a lot of golf, but down here, it’s a different experience, which is good. You see different countries, so it’s fun. You meet new people and get new experiences.”
One of those new experiences on PGA TOUR Latinoamérica is the local caddie. Most players utilize them which, at times, presents its’ own sets of hazards.
Some of whom have never set foot on a golf course prior to tournament week, players have had to stop their weekly loopers from picking up in-play balls or breaking off branches for cleaner shots. In Guatemala earlier this year, Lashley incurred a 4-stroke penalty when his local caddie decided to throw an extra wedge in his bag.
Perhaps the most harrowing local caddie tale belongs to Mitchell. At the Lexus Panama Classic in May, Mitchell teamed with a local who “learned his English from TV and music.” On Friday morning before the second round, Mitchell attempted light conversation with his caddie by inquiring about his evening the night before.
“He said it was good,” Mitchell recalled. “Then, he said ‘It was good until my mom had a heart attack and had to be rushed to the hospital.’” Stunned that he had shown up for work, Mitchell paid him for the remainder of the week and insisted he go be with his mother.
In addition to his added resilience, Mitchell’s overall perspective has also grown by leaps and bounds out here.
“I talked to a few guys on the Web.com Tour who were complaining about having to travel from California to Nova Scotia to Wichita,” he said. “I was like ‘I can’t wait to do that.’ I travel to Brazil, which is Portuguese, all the way over to Colombia, which is Spanish, down to Uruguay. They’re bent out of shape about three hour flights and I’m looking at a 21-hour travel day tomorrow, a pro-am just hours after that, a TV show the next day and then we start the tournament on Thursday. And, it’s going to be fun!”
“That’s when you can see how they change,” Rivas said. “They adapt, get perspective and lose all the fear. That’s when it becomes a great experience.”
But, as the level of competition continues to elevate, PGA TOUR Latinoamérica is also an experience these players cannot rest idle in.
“There are a lot of really strong, quality players out here,” said Matt Kuchar, who competed with fellow American Justin Hueber in this week’s Bridgestone America’s Golf Cup. “You can go anywhere around the world and not find many more talented guys.”
“I don’t think people realize how good the competition out here is,” said American Kent Bulle. “Top to bottom, week to week, it’s tough. If you don’t bring it every week, you’re just going to move down.”
“The set-up on PGA TOUR Latinoamérica is great and they play some great courses,” Kuchar added. “The way the system feeds into the Web.com Tour and then PGA TOUR is a great system, a great way to fulfill the dream of getting out onto the PGA TOUR.”
“This tier is great,” said Watt. “These are proper events, nothing less than PGA TOUR or Web.com Tour events. They’re run really well and, more than anything, I’m enjoying the maturing process through these years out here.”
“The competitive level is getting stronger out here every year,” Rivas said. “This Tour helped them find that path. This is a great way to come and try to see if this is what you’re going to be doing in your future. It’s an incredible experience they get out here.”
Indeed, it is. Just listen to the sound, look at the swing or, better yet, read an unsolicited email that could have easily never been written.
“Thanks again,” Mitchell’s email ended. “I look forward to seeing you at the next event.”