In the highly competitive world of Junior Golf, Diego Garcia’s tournament record stands out. He’s scored 11 first place finishes, 12 second place finishes and eight third place finishes in 38 tournaments. His playing schedule includes the 2016 European Junior Golf Championship in Scotland, May 30-June 3, if he can raise the funds to make his first trip out of the country.
On paper, Diego looks like a talented and tested young star on his way to a nationally ranked college golf program.
Except Diego is only eight years old. He’s a second grade student at Woodridge Elementary in Alamo Heights, the son of Eduardo Garcia, architect and president of Duende Design, and Magoli Leon, who manages a home health care business. Eduardo and Magoli also are the parents of two daughters, Magoli, who will start high school in the fall, and Bianca Sofia, who is in the fifth grade.
Garcia and Leon divorced three years ago, but remain close friends.
“We get along better now than we did when we were married,” Leon said. “Everything we do is all about the kids.”
Garcia is not the stereotypical, tightly wound parent of a golf prodigy. On the course, he is a relaxed and supportive Dad with a lot of patience and willingness to chase balls, rake traps, and tend pins for Diego. He offers advice sparingly and quietly. He signs emails promoting Diego’s golf development, “Eduardo Garcia, Caddie Daddy.”
“The most important thing, always, is that Diego enjoys the experience of playing and of competing,” Garcia said. “It’s better for him to have fun than to obsess about winning.”
Leon said her former husband found different ways after the divorce to bond with each child: Eduardo, the vice chairman of the City’s Public Art Commission, shares a mutual love of art with daughter Magoli. Eduardo the perennial competitor in the Pearl Paella Challenge, which occurs March 13, shares a love of cooking with younger daughter Bianca Sofia. And he and Diego have golf, often practicing at the First Tee or the Quarry Golf Club.
“Everyone in the family loves art, music and sports,” Magoli said. “We all have golf clubs, too, but only Eduardo and Diego really play.”
While Diego qualified for the junior world championships, international competition is beyond the family’s means, so a fundraiser is being held at the Quarry Golf Club Monday, March 7 from 6-8 p.m. Tickets are $50 and all proceeds will go into a fund to send Eduardo and Diego to Scotland for a week and the tournament.
Two talented chefs, Luca Della Casa and Alejandro Rodriguez, are preparing a special menu, and Sheila Fitzgerald, U.S. Kids golf coach and the executive director of Kids on Course San Antonio, will talk about junior golf. Diego will put on a demonstration, too.
The family launched a GoFundMe campaign earlier this week, hoping to raise $12,000 for Eduardo and Diego to travel to Scotland and prepare over several days before the tournament.
“He has never traveled overseas, so we want him to be able to acclimate for a few days,” Eduardo said. “He may be fine, but we don’t want to make him get off a plane and go straight into competition.”
Last year Diego won his age group in the Greater San Antonio Junior Match Play Championships. I am no authority on the most promising junior golfers in the region, but Diego’s goal of competing in an international field at such a young age caught our attention.
I met up with Diego on the practice green at Brackenridge Golf Course Wednesday to see for myself what makes an eight-year-old golf whiz tick. I was expecting intensity. What I found was a sweet young boy dressed in his best golf outfit for the photo shoot, more Rory than Tiger, who showed his competitive side in other ways.
“Do you know who once lived in that house over there?” Diego quizzed me, pointing his putter in the direction of the former studio of sculptor Gutzon Borglum.
“You tell me,” I said.
“The man who built Mount Morerush,” Diego said, pleased to one up me on Brackenridge history trivia.
“You mean Mount Rushmore,” I said.
“Okay, yeah,” he said. “How about that statue over there?”
I played along and waited for the answer.
“Harvey Pennick, author of the ‘Little Red Book,’” Diego said with obvious reverence for the legendary Hall of Fame instructor and former University of Texas golf coach who died in 1995.
Golfers in Diego’s age group who come out of programs like U.S. Kids Golf and Kids on Course learn to tee it up at the 150-yard marker and play a shorter version of the course seen from the adult tees.
Diego has an effortless golf swing that most adult players only wish they could emulate, but he’s also a kid eager to show his distance, so he whips a few fast practice swings, conscious of having a gallery.
A case of nerves affects Diego’s first few practice shots from the tee as Scott Ball shoots photos just a few feet away, but he soon settles down and we watch him rip a driver and then a fairway wood on a par 5. A deep sand trap lies between his ball and an elevated green with a tight pin placement. Without any instruction from his father, Diego opens his sand wedge and lofts a high flop shot softly on to the green, the ball settling six feet from the hole. It’s Diego channeling his inner Phil Michelson, hitting an incredibly difficult shot with seeming unawareness of his gift.
Diego and I join Eduardo on the tee of a short par three to finish our abbreviated outing, all agreeing to play the hole with mulligans. A red-tailed hawk sat atop a dead tree along the fairway, watching as we hit. I mention how much fun it would be to play a round with Diego, and his father mentions Monday’s night’s event, which will include an auction of nine-hole outings with his son.
*Top image: Diego examines the break on the green before a putt. Photo by Scott Ball.