Beyond his wildest dreams
GOLFER Miguel Tabuena is going to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil next month to play—nothing different about that, since he has been swinging a club since he was two years old.
But this tournament will have a much different setting—and Tabuena will go even with the risk of contacting the dreaded Zika virus there that made some of the other sports’ big names withdraw at the 11th hour.
“This will be different because it’s playing against a field that will also be playing for their countries,” Tabuena told the Inquirer as he becomes an Olympian in a few days’ time and with the chance to win the Philippines’ first gold medal in the Games.
“I’m honored to be representing the Philippines. I’m proud of representing the country in any tournament, what more the Olympics?” he said.
“I’m glad golf is back on the Olympic stage and it’s so cool to be part of it.”
Golf will be making a return to the Olympics for the first time since the 1904 Summer Olympics held in St. Louis, United States.
Canada’s George Lyon won the individual gold medal while US bets finished 2-3. The Americans also swept the team events.
Out of the picture are the top four players in the world—Jason Day of Australia, Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth of the US and Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy—as the threat of the Zika virus has been played out of proportion that basketball superstar LeBron James and several others also withdrew.
Even Angelo Que and Dottie Ardina, who would have also made the golf roster, declined from going because of it.
“I thought about it when many [athletes] were backing out,” Tabuena said, when asked if he ever thought of not teeing it up in Rio.
“I did some research and completely respect their decisions. The risk seems to be low, so I decided to play.”
The International Container Terminal Services, Incorporated (ICTSI) company of billionaire Ricky Razon has been one of Tabuena’s—and Philippine golf’s—major supporters and played an integral part in the country being able to send a representative in the sport’s revival.
“We are very proud to have Miguel represent us Filipinos there,” Nana Soriano, a top executive of ICTSI which funds the local tour, told the Inquirer. “We are very excited and hopeful. We wish him all the best.”
ICTSI started the Philippine Golf Tour several years back to give the country’s pros a playground of their own.
Little did Razon know that it would be key to a boom in the sport here, that, ultimately, led to someone in the Olympics.
“Mr. Razon’s commitment to them was to give them the chance to play here and abroad,” Soriano went on. “ICTSI gives support to several players whom Mr. Razon feels has the talent to play in the world level. And he was right.”
Even Tabuena didn’t have an inkling that he would someday be an Olympian.
“It wasn’t part of any dreams I had then,” he said. “But when I heard that it (golf) was again going to be part of the Olympics, I definitely wanted to represent. I was hoping since then that I would make it.”
Tabuena is well inside the Top 60 of the International Golf Federation Olympic rankings, coming into the tournament at No. 38 and ahead of some stars like former British Open champion Padraig Harrington of Northern Ireland and Camilo Villegas of Colombia.
He will be up against a star-studded field at the Barra da Tijuca layout, even if the top four in the world aren’t playing.
Seeing action in the US Open a couple of weeks ago has definitely given Tabuena the confidence that he can play at the highest level, and with Day and Co. out of the tournament, it seems favorable for the rest of the field.
“I always say that I go into a tournament believing that I can contend,” Tabuena said. “A lot of big names have already withdrawn and of course, that gives everyone else a better chance.”
Tabuena will be in a very lean Philippine delegation that would try to end a gold drought, and with the 21-year-old being in fine form, who knows what can happen in Rio.
Only one thing is certain: Tabuena, like all the other Filipinos flying to a land where the Zika virus is, has the prayers of an entire nation backing him up.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.