Meet the Tiger of local amateur golf

by Ray Sanchez

 

Is Rufus Brijalba III a golfer, or what? Hes so good Im nicknaming him The Tiger Woods of El Paso Amateur Golf.

 

This writer has covered outstanding male amateur golfers here for decades. I saw Frank Redman win seven City Amateur Golf Tournament championships. I followed the careers of such former male amateur stars as Manny Martinez, the Harden brothers, Henry Boyd, Raul Hernandez and others and am witnessing the slew of present young stars.

 

Brijalba is only 25 but he already belongs with the best of the best. In fact, hes done something that no one had done before.

  

BACK IN THE early 1980s, Jim Thomas, then golf editor of the El Paso Herald-Post, got together with the late Frank Redman and came up with the idea of naming four of El Pasos many amateur tournaments as majors, like in professional golf.

 

They chose the City Tournament, of course, plus the Edwards-Zuloaga Memorial at Ascarate Course, the Vern Valdez Memorial at Santa Teresa Country Club and the Anthony Invitational at Anthony Country Club. The City Tournament would be played at different courses.

 

They reasoned that the different venues would be a good test for champions.

 

NO ONE had won all four until Brijalba came along. Hes shown such an amazing knack for winning the big ones (just like Tiger) that he not only owns a career local grand slam but this year won the biggest amateur major of all, the City Tournament, for the second year in a row. In the process, he shot a 63 this year, one of the lowest rounds, if not the lowest, ever recorded in a local major. And he did it on the very tough Painted Dunes Desert Golf Course.

 

 BUT WAIT. Theres more. Just as amazing is that hes done it all after a two-year layoff from golf.

 

His father, Rufus Brijalba Jr., introduced him to golf when he was five years old. However, he didnt get his first set of clubs until he was seven. He began to show signs of talent but was also interested in cross country running and participated in both sports at Cathedral High. His senior year, he helped the Irish win the parochial state golf championship. He credits a lot of his early development to local pro Mark Pelletier.

 

Brijalba played golf for UTEP and had a few good tournaments but he left his senior year to work in his dads business, RGB Transportation, which delivers produce around the country.

 

He quit playing golf for two years.

  

THE TURNING point came when his dad presented him with a trip to the Butch Harmon School in Las Vegas as a gift on his 23rd birthday.

 

I learned a lot there about the golf swing and other factors of the game, he says.

 

He came back to El Paso with renewed interest and began to practice, mostly after work.

 

And he began entering and winning tournaments. Hes only 5 feet 7 and weighs only 165 pounds, but he can hit the ball 290 to 300 yards consistently.

 

He says consistency is the best part of his game. I keep the ball in play pretty well and try not to be erratic, he says. Sounds like Butch Harmon talking.

  

THERE ARE many golfers who can hit the ball a mile and score well but only a few have that inner something that enables them to win consistently. Brijalba has shown that something.

 

Yes, folks are already encouraging him to turn pro and have offered to sponsor him. Hell be 26 next month.

 

It would be hard to leave working for my dad, he says, but I have thought about it.

 

For now, he plans to keep working, practicing and playing local amateur meets.

 

Lets all wish him luck.

 

 

 

Veteran sports journalist and author Ray Sanchez welcomes suggestions for his column. Contact him at (915) 584-0626, by e-mail at rayf358@yahoo.com or online at www.raysanchezbooks.com