Santos-Ocampo Seeks New Heights While Staying Firmly Grounded September 13, 2016 | Elverson, Pa. By Dave Shedloski

Carl Santos-Ocampo is seeking a different kind of thrill this week at Stonewall. (USGA/Chris Keane)

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Earlier this year Carl Santos-Ocampo checked off one of the most challenging items from his bucket list. Though he is afraid of heights, he always wanted to try skydiving. He still shakes his head thinking about it – the adrenaline rush, the fear, the sheer craziness of the idea and then going through with it.

“But I did it,” he said, exuding a notable sense of accomplishment when he jumped out of a plane from 15,000 feet and fell for 90 seconds before pulling the parachute. “It was so crazy, but so worth it. It was just pure speed … incredibly scary and fun and exciting.”

There’s only one thing in the world that would be more exciting, and that’s winning the U.S. Mid-Amateur and having a chance to compete in the Masters Tournament.

“That’s like the ultimate dream,” said Santos-Ocampo, who is a long way from realizing it while moving one important step closer after his performance Monday in the Round of 64 in the 36th U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship at Stonewall. Thanks to a sterling 4-under 31 through nine holes (with the usual match-play concessions), Santos-Ocampo sprinted to a 4-up lead and cruised to a surprisingly easy 5-and-4 decision over 2013 USA Walker Cup player Todd White. Santos-Ocampo meets Scott Strickland of Birmingham, Mich., at 7:45 a.m. EDT in Tuesday’s Round of 32.

His 31 included an eagle-2 with a 9-iron from 145 yards at the par-4 fourth hole and a kick-in birdie at the par-3 ninth with a 7-iron from 175 yards. In the opening round of stroke play on Saturday, the transplanted Floridian had gone out in 41 on the first nine en route to a 75.

“That was a total blow up,” Santos-Ocampo said of his play Saturday. “Then I have this amazing turnaround. I couldn’t believe it. And the match was over before I knew it. Golf is so unpredictable.”

So are golf careers. One of 32 reinstated amateurs to reach match play, Santos-Ocampo regained his status last year. It wasn’t an easy decision, but it was the right time.

Santos-Ocampo, who was born in Providence, R.I., has been playing golf since he was 6 years old. His family moved to the Philippines when he was 5, and he and his father decided to learn the game together at a nearby driving range at an army base. The instructor, a man named Romulo Negrido, took the youngster under his wing and taught him the fundamentals. To this day, he still remains his instructor and Santos-Ocampo considers him a second father.

“Your first coach is always the most important because he makes a big impression,” said Santos-Ocampo, who moved with his family to Florida when he was 14 and soon after won the 2002 Florida State Golf Association Boys Junior tournament.

Santos-Ocampo previously competed in a pair of U.S. Amateurs, in 2008 and ’09, reaching match play in the former, but he is appearing in his first U.S. Mid-Amateur after trying to play in Asia and the Web.com Tour following his graduation from Notre Dame. A financial advisor in Naples, Fla., the 28-year-old  gave himself every chance to be a professional golfer and then walked away without regrets when he turned 26.

“I was getting to the age where I needed to make a choice,” he explained. “I value my education from Notre Dame, and I value a lot of other things in life other than golf. It was time to make the decision to either keep going … I’ve seen guys on the Web.com Tour or Asian Tour or mini tours and they dedicate themselves to the game. It’s a difficult challenge, but they do it. I knew I had some other opportunities if I did something else.

“Obviously, we all would love to play golf for a living, but you have to do what’s best for yourself and your personal development … and down the road your future and your family.”

So amateur golf will be his calling. “I hope to have a long career and a fun career,” he said.

To that end, no more skydiving. Nope. Next up, he said he might like to try driving a race car.

Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA websites.


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