When it comes to athletic prominence, golf in Mexico does not have the long nor storied history of other national pastimes like soccer and boxing. But to University of Florida redshirt junior Santiago Gavino, the desire to compete on the course was instilled not long after birth.
Born and raised in the north-central city of San Luis Potosi, Gavino followed in the footsteps of both his father and Mexican idol Lorena Ochoa, taking up the game at the age of 5 years old. Nestled in the mountainous terrain a short distance from his childhood home are two of the premier courses in the region: La Loma, designed by PGA legend Jack Nicklaus, and the San Luis Country Club. The two courses provided the upstart golfer the perfect locations to hone his craft.
Two years into his high school career, Gavino transitioned to the United States, settling in Austin, Texas, at St. Michael’s Catholic Academy. Although the move north of the border created some challenges, the change of scenery was met with optimism.
“It was a little difficult, but living in Texas for a couple of years made it easier,” Gavino said. “I knew English pretty well, so that was not too bad. I missed family and friends like everybody else, but you make your new life when you come here.”
Playing in America while still residing close to his homeland opened new doors for the budding star. In 2009, Gavino tied for fourth place at the Mexican Amateur Tournament and earned a second place finish with Mexico at the Toyota Junior World Team Championship.
After graduating from St. Michael’s in 2010, Gavino headed even further away from home, arriving at Florida in fall of that same year. To some, a redshirt season comes as a disappointment, but Gavino admits spending the 2010-2011 season out of competition was good for his development as a player.
“When I got here, I wasn’t playing at my best,” he recalls. “It helped me to practice more, to get a little more into it, and feel comfortable for the years to come.”
The time spent refining his technique and settling into the Gator golf program was beneficial. After spending another season outside the tee box, Gavino saw action in four tournaments for UF in 2012-2013. His inaugural campaign was highlighted by a team leading 67 at the SunTrust Gator Invitational, the lowest score posted by a Gator all season, and a fourth place finish at The Invitational at Kiawah, scoring 222 overall for the tournament at the acclaimed Ocean Course.
A sixth place finish at the 2013 US Open Local Qualifier started the year in impressive fashion, and for the 2013-2014 collegiate season, Gavino believes he is poised for a breakout.
“My major goal is to win a tournament individually. Hopefully I get a win this year. As a team, I think we have a chance to win a couple of tournaments,” said Gavino. “I’m feeling good about my game.”
As golf’s popularity continues to rise in Mexico and the southwestern United States, and with 2013-2014 brimming with opportunities to surge to the top and achieve a lifelong goal of playing professionally, Santiago Gavino’s potential in the southeast continues to grow.