2005 World Golf Teachers Cup

2005
Location: Sao Jose Golf Club, Itu, Brazil
Individual Champion: Raul Fretes (Paraguay)
Score: 70-71 – 141
Team Champion: Paraguay

Fretes, a former European Tour player, scratched out a two-stroke victory in the first World Cup played south of the equator. In the team competition, Paraguay defeated Brazil 5-1 in match play to capture its first team title. Perennial favorite Team USA never got it going and finished in sixth place. This World Cup team competition was notable in the fact that a record 12 teams participated. A pro-am was held the day after the World Cup with dozens of Brazilian dignitaries on hand. A formal closing banquet, featuring several Brazilian celebrities, made for a memorable event.

The day has arrived. I am on my way to Brazil to compete in the World Golf Teachers Cup. The flight on TAM Airlines is a pleasant experience. On-demand movies and enough room for comfort even back where the real people cohabit. Eight hours and fifteen minutes later we arrive. The easy part of the journey is over.

Imagine five guys, five sets of golf clubs, and six bags packed in a minivan with a driver who doesn’t speak English and is unsure about the location of our hotel. Oh, and it is pouring down rain! Two hours later we reach the city of Itu in the dead of night. After a few encounters with some of the locals, we find our quarters. When the van door opens it is like a jack-in-the-box. Ah, but we are here and the staff is ready willing and able. I wish I could tell you it was a scenic drive, but the bag on my head obscured the view.

S AT U R D AY – FEBRUARY 12, 2005

It is an incredibly small world at times with interesting twists and turns . One month prior to this trip, I casually mentioned to my friend George Baker of Razor Golf that I was going to Brazil for a tournament . The conversation went something like this: “Where?“ “São Paulo.” “Hey, I have friends in São Paulo, and they are here at Innisbrook right now. Do you want to meet them?”

The next day we had a wonderful visit over a round of golf. It turned out they own a house on the 13th hole of the golf course where the World Cup is being played. They insist I visit them upon my arrival and there is a message from them at the front desk as I check in.

So, this morning I ring them up and we spend a delightful day touring the area prior to playing a practice round . My new Brazilian friends, Alvaro and Yeda, play with me, imparting some local knowledge on the intricacies of the Club de Golf San Jose. Halfway through the round they to tell me not to go into the woods on holes 2 and 4 because there is an insect that can transmit some rare disease to humans. Somehow the hidden lake on number 17 seems less important.

S U N D AY – FEBRUARY 13, 2005

I sleep incredibly well here . Although it is summer, the humidity is very low and the evening temperatures are such that you can bed down with the windows open. Amazingly, no bugs invade the room . Meal times here are nothing but feasts. You can eat yourself into oblivion. The breakfast buffet includes dozens of fruits, equal amounts of breads, rolls or pastries, eggs scrambled or prepared by a chef, sausages, bacon, cold cuts, cheeses, cereals, yogurt and even  ice cream . At lunch, I order steak for one and they bring out three grilled sirloins with rice and beans, salad and an assorted dish of little  croquette-type objects.

Our hosts, the Brazilian Golf Teachers Federation, take us to dinner at one of their typical barbecue places. Imagine Sweet Tomatoes meets the Chicago stock  yard. I am advised not to overdo the salad bar. Soon I find out why. Throughout the evening, waiters plunk down skewers with sides of grilled meat attached and carve off pieces onto your plate. I sample sirloin, fillet, wild hog, chicken, pork roast and some type of cheese. It is a non-stop orgy reminiscent of a  medieval feast. One of my golfing buddies, Mark Harman, wonders how the folks from PETA would view true carnivores indulging in such pleasure . That brings on a whole series of discussions which results in our solving all the problems of the world.

M O N D AY – FEBRUARY 14, 2003

Today, I relax. I have played two practice rounds, so this morning I will take it easy. I like the golf course. Except for the elevations, it reminds me of the older courses in Miami like the Biltmore or Miami Springs: Bermuda grass, small greens, and very grainy . Most holes are doglegs and it is a fader’s golf course, not the best for my draw. I have managed to keep it in the short grass so far and was able to bend it right on a couple of holes that really needed it. My favorite hole is #9, an uphill par-5 requiring a slight fade across a fairly wide valley. It is very picturesque from the tee, a great Kodak moment.

A round 2 PM, I go over to the course to hit a few balls. Then, I decide to play the front nine one more time because it is the more difficult of the two sides. I play awful. Well actually, I hit it well but my short game is a mess. The Bermuda around the green is thick and the ball nestles down. I double-hit the ball twice after missing greens . I finish par, birdie, but the other holes are forgettable . Not a good way to go into the first round.

This evening we have a reception for all participants. Several dignitaries from Brazil are on hand as is the Mayor of Itu. There are golf instructors from all over the world and I make many new friends. It is truly an international event. Before I call it a night, I phone home to see if my wife received the Valentine’s bouquet I sent. She said they were beautiful. Thank you Mario of Island Flowers in Ybor City.

T U E S D AY – FEBRUARY 15, 2005

It’s tournament time. Even to a casual observer, the start of a tournament is obvious. There is a feeling in the air. Everything is much more serious. You can see it on the players faces – all business . It doesn’t matter what level of professional tour, the atmosphere is the same. Pleasantries are short and to the point, “Play well,” or “Good luck,” that’s about it.

My tee time is 9:40 AM and I am playing with George Soares of Brazil. I start out well, playing at 1-over-par through six holes, but a three-putt on number 7 unnerves me. Then I make an inexcusable mistake on the eighth. F rom the middle of the fairway, I miss the green with an 8-iro n . I leave myself a difficult up-anddown and make a double-bogey. This is such a confounding game . One bad swing can shake your confidence and cause you to struggle for several holes. It doesn’t help when I miss a makeable birdie putt on #9. Then I get it back together and am 4-overpar standing on #15, a brutal par-3 playing about 225 yards. I push my 5-wood ever so slightly and it hits a slope just to the right of the green and bounds down a hill into knee high grass. My best Arnold Palmer swing sends the ball well over the green , leading to double-bogey number two. I shoot 78 and am two shots off the lead in the senior division. George also shoots 78, but I have never played with anyone who hits it so far off the tee. On the par-5 eighteenth he hits wedge to the green for his second shot. Good thing he is in the flat-belly division. This evening several of us go to another barbecue place and overeat again.

W E D N E S D AY – FEBRUARY 16, 2005

I am off late on day two, so I take my time getting over to the golf course. My caddie Boca greets me at the spot on the range he has saved for me. I warm up well and feel pretty good as I head to the tenth tee. We start in reverse order today. Again I am paired with George and also Eladio Franco of Paraguay,cousin of PGA Tour player Carlos Franco. I score well early but the fluid swing that was on the driving range is missing. When I need it most it fails me on the same killer par three that took my lunch money yesterday. I pull my shot left and it hits a branch and kicks into the woods. You guessed it, double-bogey number three . Once again I pull myself back together and get it going. Heading into the fifth hole, my fifteenth of the day, I am 4-overpar, but then disaster. I thought I hit a good shot as it tracked the flagstick all the way. Unfortunately, it was a whisker short and buries in the lip of the bunker fronting the green . I can only hack at it. Double-bogey number four. It’s a killer. When you’re fighting your swing a little, something like this really takes a toll. I start to press and it costs me two more bogeys. To make matters worse, I blow and easy birdie from just off the green in two on the par-5 finishing hole and shoot 80. I finish five strokes off the winning score, lamenting the double-bogeys and what could have been.

This round also counted in the team qualifying for the World Cup, which the USA is defending here . Other than Mark Harman, our best player, the other five of us don’t play so well and we are 14 shots behind the team from Paraguay. We will need quite a charge tomorrow if we want to return the cup to US soil . Back at the hotel pool, we are all lamenting about missed shots, three putts and mini-disasters. It’s what golfers do. At least the beer is cold and the pool refreshing . Several of us go to a German restaurant in Itu and drown our sorrows with more beer. Driving to Itu is interesting . About every quarter of a mile on the main road is a speed bump which you can’t see because there are no street lights. It doesn’t matter who drives, we seem to always hit one at top speed and bang our heads on the ceiling of the car. By the end of the evening we are all exhausted. Most of us are not accustomed to walking a golf course this much. I enjoy walking, but it is difficult to find courses in Florida that will let you. I prefer walking and vow to do more when I get home.

T H U R S D AY – FEBRUARY 17, 2005

This was the second day of team qualifying. There are six people on each team. I qualified for the US team by winning the senior division and finishing fourth overall at the US Championships . We were in fifth place after yesterday’s competition behind Paraguay, Brazil, Argentina and the Caribbean teams.A big day was needed to get us in position to defend our title. Unfortunately, we fail in our mission to bring the cup home.

I played well. My swing comes back and I shoot 73. I was even par on the last hole with about a 200-yard shot to reach in two; however, I had to hit a pretty fair-sized fade to get there. I figured 1-under would be huge, but my ball clips a branch and falls into a hazard resulting in bogey. My round helps but notenough to overcome the teams ahead of us. We end up in fifth and will play the South American team in match play for also-ran status . It will be the second time in the seven playings of the World Cup that the United States failed to keep possession of the trophy.

In spite of the disappointment, I did have a great day. Not just because I played well, but because I had great company. My playing partners are Anthony Henry of Trinidad and Rueben Franco of Paraguay. Rueben tells me he is Carlos Franco’s coach. Anthony is a delightful gentleman who tells me all about his life in Trinidad and how he came to golf. We share a moment only golfers would understand. We are talking about what a confounding game golf is and how just one bad shot can ruin everything and put you out of a tournament. Then he looks at me and says exactly what I’m thinking, “But I love it.”

Paraguay and Brazil will compete for the championship. The remaining nations will play for pride. For a moment it looks like we will play the Canadian team, a true grudge match, but they fall to seventh. Instead, we combine forces and head to the barbecue.

FRIDAY – FEBRUARY 18, 2005

We are all beat. Six rounds of golf have worn us down. The weather has turned considerably hotter the last couple of days and the sun here is brutal. My nose is peeling and blistered even with a liberal coating of sunscreen every few holes. I play against a Brazilian named Anderson Nemur, another one of the long hitters. Our match goes seventeen holes before I lose. A terrible tee shot into the lake seals my fate. As we trudge up to the clubhouse we talk about what a great week it has been. Anderson wants a picture of me and the US team. Our team finishes sixth but in consolation, I must say we have all made some wonderful friends. Golf is such a great vehicle for that. There are few other sports like it. Here in a remote area of Brazil, people of different beliefs and cultures gathered, competed hard against each other, shared our views on golf and life and at the end of each day we complimented good play and commiserated with those who struggled. Paraguay defeats Brazil in the finals, becoming the first South American team to take possession of the World Teachers Cup.

This evening I dined on Brazilian pizza with my friends Yeda and Alvaro . The town is busy as everyone is out celebrating the end of the week. Tomorrow there will be a pro am for tournament sponsors, dignitaries and businessmen from Sao Paulo . It will be a day of fun to further the cause of golf in this beautiful country.

S A T U R D A Y – FEBRUARY 19, 2005

We are reaching the conclusion of the World Golf Teachers Cup . I play in the pro-am with area residents Roberto and Nancy Cohelo and Charles Simms of Germany. It is a delightful day. I have made so many friends this week, both from golf federations and the local community. This will certainly go down as one of the great experiences of my life.

We shoot 64 in the pro-am but the winning score is 53. Not sure about some of the handicaps posted, but it is all in good fun. Things wrapped up about 6 PM and then the party started. The awards banquet was at our hotel. A mini carnival broke out. Music, dancers, drummers, conga lines and tons more food. Unbelievable! I’m not sure how the girls stay in their costumes with all that shaking going on. For some of their numbers it looked like they just took paper clips and attached them to strategic locations. Of course this is all normal to the Brazilians. We finally quit well after midnight. What a week, but now I am ready to go home.

S U N D AY – FEBRUARY 20, 2005

It has truly been a great week and the Brazilian Golf Teachers Federation has been a fantastic host. I’m sure I’ll hash over all the missed shots that cost me a chance at the senior title. The fifteenth hole was my nemesis, not that it is an easy par- 3 . Far from it! We played it at about 225, but two double-bogeys are inexcusable. I let the hole get to me and that is no way to win . It’s history now, the milk has been spilled and it is time to move on.

As the plane departs, I can only reflect on how grateful I am that my dad introduced me to this incredible game of golf. It has taught me lessons and brought me in contact with people I’ll never forget . Regardless of our native land, we golfers are one in spirit, celebrating a passion created by a little white ball. I say goodbye now to new and old friends by paraphrasing a classic song – “We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when, but be sure, we will meet again.” Obrigado, my Brazilian comrades on the links.

 

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