Saturday at Doral, high noon, blue skies, palms swaying. Pretty nice, right? There's Phil, on the range, Butch and Bones at his side. Behind them, behind the ropes, the crowd's three deep. Banana Boat sunblock. Cuban cigars. Silicone breasts. Caps signed by Camilo, by Ernie, by Rory, by Hunter. (A Colombian, a South African, an Irishman, an American.) And here, bounding down the range, heading straight for Lefty & Co., comes a new man on the scene. Newish, anyway.
Alvaro Quiros of Spain—tall and lanky, 27 years old, four days of stubble on his long, brown face, scorecard pencils for sideburns. White belt. White shoes with old-school metal spikes. (If your swing clocked in at 124 mph, you'd have real nails in your shoes too.) Sky-blue striped shirt. Navy-blue slacks with one back pocket. (The Continental look lives!) AL-vah-row Kee-ROHSS is in the house, flashing his big toothy grin.
"Hell-low Pheel, Bootch, Bones." Long nods from Mickelson, from Harmon, from Jim Mackay.
The caddie (Mackay) tells Quiros about the last time he saw him, in early March, in the clubhouse at Whisper Rock, the swanky Scottsdale golf hangout, fast asleep in a big leather chair at lunchtime, the pale glow from a flat screen on his face.
Why would you sleep at night if you're Alvaro Quiros, when you're the life of the party, when you're the guy who was bold enough to hit into Tiger Woods (albeit accidentally) last year at the PGA Championship, on a 606-yard par-5, the second a driver off the deck?
"Yes, yes, yes," the golfer says to Bones, smiling and nodding, remembering his Whisper Rock siesta. He talks with his whole body. His shoulders go up and down, up and down. The head tilts from side to side. His voice is a song. "Yes, yes."
Quiros grew up with his parents and kid brother in a house about the size of your ordinary suburban American living room, near the gates of the Valderrama Golf Club, on Costa del Sol. His father was—still is—a gardener and his mother a housekeeper. Look where golf has taken Martin and Rosa Quiros's first-born son. To the leader board at the CA Championship in Miami on a postcard Saturday. To a secluded corner of the cathedral, chatting up the trinity of Butch and Phil and Bones. To the epicenter of the game.
Jim McLean, the golf instructor and Hoganphile, approaches the range. He could watch Quiros make swings all day, even if the speed of his move wears out others. "It's homemade," McLean says. "I like that. He's like a big version of Sergio. They both have the Hogan lag. That's where the power comes from. You see the Seve influence all over Alvaro. The slashing swing, the outgoing personality. He's an artist." Maybe apprentice artist would be more accurate. If his pitching and chipping game were as big as his personality and his driving game, you'd already be on a first-name basis with him. He'd be Ollie, and then some.
The Ryder Cup was played at Valderrama in 1997, its first time in continental Europe, a move engineered by Ballesteros, for a team he captained. Young Alvaro won a free ticket by winning the boys' title at his public course, La Canada, where his father taught him the game. Seve mesmerized him, even if he was simply driving a golf cart. Before that Ryder Cup the main impulses in Alvaro's life were to play soccer and golf, in that order. The European win changed everything. That is to say, after the '97 Ryder Cup, Alvaro reversed the order: It became golf first, soccer a close second. When he returns to Cadiz, in the south of Spain, to the apartment he rents there with his girlfriend, he spends weekend afternoons playing pickup soccer games.
Quiros is one of those rare souls—like Seve driving a golf cart or Meryl Streep doing her nails—who makes some ordinary act look entertaining. Quiros is slow over the ball, but you'd pay to watch this guy throw grass and point his long arms into the wind, his face all contorted in confusion, trying to figure out wind direction. Watch him eat an apple. On one long par-5 at Doral he took several man-sized bites of a Granny Smith, put the apple on his towel, played his second and returned to the apple, now nibbling away until the core was about the size of a golf tee. "I don't waste," he would say later. "That's how we grew up."
Quiros finished school at 18, turned pro in 2004 at age 21, won professional events, small and not so small, in '06, '07, '08 and '09, in Spain, in South Africa, in Qatar. He plays around the world and came to Doral ranked 33rd in it, with a goal of making Colin Montgomerie's European Ryder Cup team come September.
His caddie, Alastair McLean of Scotland and Huntersville, N.C. (and not related to Jim), caddied for Montgomerie for years. Some of Monty's pearls have worked their way from Alastair to Alvaro. Example: When playing out of the woods, never hit the first tree. This has particular application to Quiros because he spends a lot of time in the shade. He will sometimes say, in his singsong English, "The driver, she is not behaving well today, you know?"
The caddie and his man have a good time together, McLean speaking Spanish through his soupy Glaswegian accent, Quiros coming back to him in Castilian-inflected English. On one hole last Saturday, Quiros drove it a mile but into the right rough, 200 yards from the green, behind a tree.
"Pearfict six," the Scottish caddie said. He laughed.
"Yes, yes—six-iron, perfect," the Spanish player said. He was laughing too.
There was no six-iron in their bag. Not because Doral has no six-iron shots. Oh, no. The shaft on the six-iron had broken, and they could not find a replacement. Quiros plays a triple X stiff Rifle steel shaft, a 7.7 shaft flex, if that means anything to you. A Sequoia of a shaft, played by almost nobody and not even carried in the Tour equipment vans. Quiros slashed at a seven-iron instead. He's not a player with many swing speeds.
His playing partner was Francesco Molinari of Italy, an intense short-knocker with bags under his eyes and a putting game that will not quit. They were teammates last year in the Seve Trophy, a competition on the European tour, which they both call home. They chatted in Spanish all the way around, and the Spaniard gave the Italian a hearty thumbs-up when Molinari played a beauty from the rough. How do you say "people person" in Spanish? Persona de personas? Quiros is one.
He stiffed a shot on a short par-3, and while making the tee-to-green walk, putter in hand, he heard a man call out in Peruvian Spanish, "Gran tiro, gran tiro!"
Quiros turned his head to the man without breaking stride and said, in his Castilian Spanish, "Muchas gracias, muchas gracias!" As he says it, it comes out gra-thee-us.
Repeating words is part of his charm, along with hitting driver. He averages 10 or 11 drivers a round, and shouts about four or five go's at each of his airborne orbs. It's like this: Go. Go-go-go. Go! You're talking about 50 go's per round, give or take. His ball will sometimes listen. One of his Saturday tee shots, in a hook wind, measured 394 yards in McLean's yardage book. Oh, this guy's going to be huge.
On Sunday the large, predominantly Spanish-speaking gallery that followed Camilo Villegas got a two-fer. The Colombian poster boy was paired with the pride of Costa del Sol. Quiros went out in 33, and the crowd was responding to his tee shots as if they were watching fireworks. If their words in the warm wind had punctuation marks, there would have been a slew of upside-down exclamation marks. Villegas, enjoying the show too, walked down one fairway with his left arm around Quiros's shoulder. With every drive and every step and every go and every gracias Quiros was making fans. This year he'll most likely play all four majors and the Ryder Cup. If all goes well, by this time next year you'll be on a first-name basis with him.
"I try to remember how good I have it," Quiros said at Doral. "Sometimes I forget, but then I remember there are so many people behind me." He meant that broadly: people in dark coal mines, people gardening in the hot sun, people shooting scores higher than his. Sixty-eight players teed it up at Doral. Only five finished in front of him. Next month he's in line to play a course in Augusta that will be a par-68 for him and very few others. Come April, Seve will be watching Alvaro, you can be sure of that.
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"You see the Seve influence all over Alvaro," says McLean. "He's an artist."
Easy Does It
Ernie Els cruised to victory at Doral, but his biggest triumphs come as he confronts his son's challenge
For Ernie Els, Doral week in 2002 must seem like a lifetime ago. On that Sunday he had an eight-shot lead. Then Tiger came on like an afternoon storm. Ernie would win, but only by two. Imagine, everybody said then, how devastating it would have been for Ernie had he not held on.
Four months after that victory Els won the third of his three majors, the British Open at Muirfield. Three months later his son, Ben, was born. It didn't take long for Els and his wife, Liezl, to figure out that Ben was different. Like roughly one in 150 children born in the U.S., he's autistic. Ever since, the Els family has taken the diagnosis and tried to turn it on its head.
After winning the CA Championship at Doral last week, Els talked about the 300-student special-needs school that he and Liezl are planning to build in South Florida, where they live. He talked about how he hoped that Ben "in another couple years" will understand what the victory at Doral means to his father. He talked about how Ben, now seven, likes to watch golf on TV. Not that long ago Ernie couldn't talk about Ben's condition in public. But you should have heard him last week.
It was a fine win, and Els played beautiful golf, shooting 18 under in a four-shot victory. But had he lost—to his young countryman, Sunday playing partner Charl Schwartzel, 25, of South Africa, or anyone else—would it have been devastating? Not a chance. Els has changed over the past eight years.
When Woods delivered his made-for-TV speech last month, he said one thing you could call profound: "I've heard it's not what you achieve in life that matters, it's what you overcome."
We can only guess at what young Ben Els will have to overcome in his life. The obstacles in the life of his father are more public: How do you continue to play world-class golf when 40 has come and gone, when you don't burn off the beer as easily as you once did, when the thing in life you most desperately want to fix is out of your hands? You could make the case that Ernie's triumph on Sunday is his most important yet. Look at what he had to overcome.
In victory Els didn't talk about going to Augusta looking for a W. He talked about trying to improve his golf between now and the Masters. It sounded like something out of the Tiger Woods playbook.
As for Tiger's quote about obstacles, if you root around the Internet, you can find it attributed to various people. The Hall of Fame golfer Johnny Miller, for one. The Hall of Fame catcher Carlton Fisk, for another. Also Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founder of the Special Olympics, a woman who saw the real definition of achievement every day.
Els said on Sunday that his son just "loves being on the golf course with me." What one father might take for granted can be a source of deep joy to another. It was always easy to root for Ernie. Now it's even easier.
Photograph by David Walberg
WILD THING Quiros led the field at Doral in driving distance, averaging almost 317 yards, but at 64th he was near the bottom in fairways hit.
DRIVEN A reenergized Els is pointing his game toward the Masters, where he was the runner-up in 2000 and '04.
Photograph by David Walberg
HAPPY GO LUCKY The charismatic Quiros hasn't forgotten his humble roots and knows "how good I have it."