Tabuena takes the long road to Wa­ialae

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - SONY OPEN IN HAWAII - FERD LEWIS

Let other kids have their Dis­ney videos and Se­same Street tapes.

When it was time to try to usher a pre­co­cious 4-year-old Miguel Tabuena off to bed for the night, it had to be Tiger.

And not “Daniel Tiger’s Neigh­bor­hood,” ei­ther.

But Tiger Woods’ break­through 1997 Mas­ters vic­tory, of all things.

“When I was 4 years old I fell asleep watch­ing Tigers Woods at the

1997 Mas­ters ev­ery night,” Tabuena said. “We had a VHS of it and I watched it over and over, ev­ery night un­til I feel asleep. I think I mem­o­rized ev­ery line of the com­men­ta­tors from it. I still re­mem­ber it.”

For a young­ster grow­ing up in the Philip­pines it was more than just a bed­time story to nod off to — it was a glimpse of the path that has brought him to the Sony Open in Hawaii, where he has shot an 8-un­der-par 132. The open­ing-round 67 and

Fri­day’s 65 have him tied for 13th place and mak­ing his first PGA Tour cut.

Along the way he has come to carry the flag for golfers from the Philip­pines, a na­tion bet­ter known for its cham­pi­onship box­ers.

Amid the par­ti­san gal­leries for play­ers from Ja­pan, Korea and other na­tions ar­rayed around the Wa­ialae Coun­try Club course this week there has been an emerg­ing fol­low­ing for Tabuena, who rel­ishes the sup­port as he pur­sues the only ca­reer that matches his pas­sion.

“I wanted to be a pro golfer ever since I can re­mem­ber,” Tabuena said. Ac­tu­ally, prob­a­bly even ear­lier. His ear­li­est mem­o­ries of an in­ter­est in golf

date to age 4, two years af­ter his par­ents first put a minia­ture set of plas­tic golf clubs in his hands and watched his fu­ture take hold. He putted around their Manila home and out into the yard and then got se­ri­ous.

“I climbed over the wall to play the third hole at the (Ala­bang) golf course next door,” Tabuena said.

It would not be the last time that he was de­ter­mined to take the sport head on. Though he would play other sports, Tabuena’s heart and drive re­mained with golf. He turned down schol­ar­ship of­fers to two Pac-12 Con­fer­ence schools to ded­i­cate him­self to the task, turn­ing pro at age 16.

And, now, at 22, Tabuena is try­ing to grab a place on the PGA Tour the hard way. He got into the Sony on a spon­sor’s ex­emp­tion and has set his sights on a top10 fin­ish at Wa­ialae, which would vault him into a spot in the Ca­reer Builder Chal­lenge next week in La Quinta, Calif. “And then …” he said hope­fully. “It is hard, but it has been done.”

“Ev­ery­body’s goal (in golf) is to play the PGA Tour,” Tabuena said. “And, that’s mine, too.”

Tabuena left high school at age 16 in fa­vor of be­ing home schooled while get­ting an early start on go­ing pro.

“Wher­ever I trav­eled (for golf), I took my books with me and stud­ied,” Tabuena said.

It has made for a world­wide ed­u­ca­tion as he has earned places on the Asian and Euro­pean tours. Tabuena ranked fifth on the Asian Tour, where he won more than $500,000 last year.

In the process there was a sil­ver medal in the Asian Games and a berth in the

Rio de Janeiro Olympics and recog­ni­tion of be­ing the Philip­pines’ top ath­lete in 2015.

Ask him who he looks up to most among golfers from his na­tive land and he’ll tell you Frankie Mi­noza, a dec­o­rated vet­eran of the Asian and Ja­pan tours.

But when it comes to pur­su­ing a life’s jour­ney he hear­kens back to the well­worn VHS-driven mem­o­ries of his youth.

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