Golfer Manuel Merizalde showed just how good he is by finishing in the top amateur spot at the 2000 Mexican Open. The tournament was held at the Golf Club of Mexico in Mexico City November 16-19.
The 6-0, 150, BYU junior was in the 61-player field which consisted of 12 PGA tour members including John Daly, Dudley Hart and Mark Brooks and several BUY.com tour players. Merizalde finished in a tie for 22nd, shooting a four-day total of 287.
"It's good to get used to playing with the pros," said Merizalde, who is majoring in Latin American Studies and minoring in management. "The field is different when your playing with guys like John Daly."
Merizalde, a native of Cali, Colombia, received a telephone call from the Colombian Federation just two weeks prior to the tournament notifying him that he had been chosen to represent the country in the Mexican Open. Although the Federation was given two spots in the tournament, they chose to only send Merizalde, their number-one ranked amateur.
The junior made a decision to play in the Mexico tournament instead of the Savane College All-American Golf Classic where he had qualified to compete as one of 25 top collegiate golfers.
Merizalde is no stranger to professional tournaments; in fact, he won the Colombian Open as a 16-year-old amateur and has also played in tournaments across South America in countries such as Brazil, Chile and Argentina. He has also played in Japan.
As a collegiate golfer Merizalde has become an important part of the Cougars' eighth-ranked team. His resume includes medalist honors at the 1998 Western Athletic Conference Championship when he was a freshman, all-conference honors his first two seasons and numerous top 10 finishes. He has also been ranked as high as 16th in the nation according to the MasterCard collegiate golf rankings. At the end of his freshman season, Merizalde placed 39th at the NCAA tournament helping his Cougars to a seventh-place finish.
"Manuel is really starting to play well," said BYU Golf Coach Bruce Brockbank. "This guy can really be something else for us."
Brockbank first got a tip on Merizalde when he watched fellow Colombian Jose Garrido play in a Junior World tournament in San Diego over five years ago. Former Cougar Eduardo Herrera is from Cali, the same city as Garrido and Merizalde. Garrido and his friend Merizalde became acquainted with Herrera, who has gone on to star in Japan and Europe.
Actually the Colombian connection had its start for BYU in over 20 years ago when then-Cougar Coach Karl Tucker first spotted Herrera at the Junior World Tournament in San Diego, too.
"Eduardo couldn't speak English then, but I watched him play and he handled himself so well. He has been one of the better players we have ever had."
Tucker mined the Junior World Tournament to find players like Jonathan Baker, John Bodenhamer, Keith Clearwater, Bobby Clampett, Mike Brannan, and Ramon Brobio, but Herrera started a Colombian connection that is still paying off well for BYU.
"I can't put my finger on it, but they (the Colombians) have a desire to succeed beyond what most people here take for granted," says Tucker, who is now retired. "I liken it to the Canadian kids we have had-they want to prove they can make it in the United States."
The Colombian connection extends into the BYU Women's Golf Program with Martha Vargas (1983-87) and Paula Suarez Hyen (1986-90, now lives in Orem with her triplets) as Academic All-Americans, Mariana Pacheco (1984-88) now head of the Colombian Trade Delegation in Washington, D.C., Catalina Navarro (1994-98) and Adriana Gomez (1987-88), who is now married to Eduardo Herrera.
"Manuel has an insatiable desire to win," says Tucker. "He's big, strong and hits the ball a long way."
After a summer that included a quarter-final appearance at the Western Open and an appearance at the U.S. Amateur, Merizalde grabbed a third-place finish a the Ping Preview held at the Duke University Course in Durham North Carolina, tying with 2000 U.S. Amateur Champion Jeff Quinney from Arizona State. The Preview is one of college golf's most prestigious tournaments and was Merizalde's best finish of the fall season.
Last September Merizalde took an early bogey on the second hole but carded three birdies and an eagle on his way to a final round of 68 and a third place finish in the individual standings at the William H. Tucker Tournament in Albuquerque, N.M.
"The most important thing right now is to help the team," said Merizalde. "The top four guys are getting solid but we still struggle with the fifth spot. We need someone to really step it up."
Merizalde is definitely stepping it up and has just begun working with teacher Roger Baker. Baker has worked with tour players Greg Norman, Mark O'Meara, Ernie Els, and Nick Faldo, just to name a few. His distinguished list continues with actors Michael Douglas and Samuel L. Jackson, not to mention Sylvester Stallone.
Merizalde's forte is definitely his short game. Former BYU assistant coach and current University of Washington assistant golf coach Matt Thurmond called Merizalde putting "amazing."
"He is just awesome to watch," Thurmond said. "He has a knack for sinking some of the toughest putts." Chipping, putting and course management contribute to Merizalde's game.
His low rounds are back-to-back 66's in the Ben Hogan Cougar Classic to finish second last April at Riverside Country Club and back-to-back 67 and 68 to open the Fresno Lexus tournament as a sophomore where he tied for second. He had a final round of 67 last September in Corvallis, Ore., in the Nike Northwest Classic at the Trysting Tree Golf Course. He shot a 68 in his final round as a freshman when BYU won the John Burns Tournament in Hawai'i. Last year he shot an opening round of 67 at the NCAA West Regionals in Fresno.
Like other great players of the past, Merizalde exhibits the unselfishness that can be found in true champions.
"I hope someday to make it so that I can really help the kids back home in Colombia," Merizalde said.
Merizalde, who selected BYU over UNLV, spent a year learning English at the BYU Language Center before playing for the Cougars. He also enjoys soccer and Jujitsu.
There is no doubt about Merizalde's ability or destiny, the fun part is watching the journey.
BYU's Foreign Men's golfers
Golfer Country, Years @ BYU
Jay Auvigne Canada, 1996-98
Ramon Brobio Philippines, 1988-90
Eduardo De Hoyos Mexico, 1994-95
Brent Franklin Canada, 1985-87
Andres Garrido Colombia, 1996-98
Jose Garrido Colombia, 1996-98
Rick Gibson Canada, 1979-84
James Harper Canada, 1985-86
Eduardo Herrera Colombia, 1983-87
Roberto Herrera Colombia, 1988-89
Jeff Kraemer Canada, 1988-91
Manuel Merizalde Colombia, 1998-now
Rishi Narain India, 1981-84
Jim Nelford Canada, 1974-77
Bill Nicholl Canada, 1985-88
Ollie Nissinen Finland, 1996-98
Rafael Ponce Ecuador, 1988-89
Jason Thomas Canada, 1988-93
Mike Weir Canada, 1989-92
Keith Westover Canada, 1981-82
Dick Zokol Canada, 1977-80