published Saturday, July 19th, 2014

Golf brought Garcia to U.S. at age 12

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    Jorge Garcia tees off during the third round of the Southern Amateur Championship golf tournament Friday at The Honors Course in Ooltewah.
    Photo by Doug Strickland.
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Only 18-year-old Jorge Garcia broke 70 on Friday during the third round of the Southern Amateur at The Honors Course.

He's also the only competitor who left his home, and his country, at age 12 to continue playing the game he loves.

Garcia, a native of Anaco, Venezuela, moved from there to live with his aunt in Miami based almost entirely on golfing opportunities.

"They closed the golf course where I lived when I was 9," Garcia said. "In order to keep playing, I had to move here."

His next move will be into housing near the University of Florida next summer. Even though former coach Buddy Alexander stepped down, Garcia has remained true to his word of playing for the Gators beginning in the fall of 2015. A large part of that sustained commitment is the continued role of assistant coach John Handrigan, who helped with the switch from Alexander to J.C. Deacon.

"Because John stayed, and I met with J.C. earlier this month, I'm committed," Garcia said. "It sounds like it's going to be a great program."

Garcia, whose father is an engineer and his mother a lawyer, attended an Americanized school in Venezuela before moving to Miami, where he will be a senior at the private American Heritage High School. His skills are honed at the Jim McLean Golf School.

"Moving to live with my aunt made it easier. My English was getting better and it got better making American friends," he said. "Now I only speak Spanish with my family."

He called a cousin after his 3-under-par 69 on Friday as he made his way through the lunch buffet featuring fried chicken and the course's incomparable banana pudding. Garcia is in seventh place at 2 under par for the tournament.

"Family is always tough to leave," Garcia said. "People from South America like to hang out with their family a lot more. Our family is really close and it was hard to leave."

Garcia said he visits his parents about three times per year and they come up about twice a year, usually to watch him in various tournaments across the country.

He's also traveling the globe. He's won back-to-back Toyota Junior World Cup medalist honors in Japan. And he's part of the Venezuelan team headed to the Junior Olympics in China later this summer.

"That's going to be fun, and it will be one of my last junior events," he said. "I've played for my country many times, so I know what it means."

A win there could mean a lot two years from now when golf will be part of the 2016 Olympic games.

"I'm looking forward to playing for my country and getting a medal," he said. "It would be nice in 2016 if I'd already won an Olympic medal."

Contact David Uchiyama at duchiyama@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6484. Follow him at twitter.com/UchiyamaCTFP.

about David Uchiyama...

David Uchiyama is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who began his tenure here in May 2001. His primary beats are UTC athletics — specifically men’s basketball and athletic department administration — and golf, which includes coverage from the PGA Tour to youth events. He also covers other high school sports, outdoor adventures, and contributes to other sections of the newspaper when necessary. David grew up in Salinas, Calif., and began working ...

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