It seems not that long ago, last October to be exact, that Luke Llaneras was busy helping his Miami Springs Golden Hawks boys golf team turn in a big-time season, upsetting Columbus for the first time in two decades to win the district title among various accomplishments.
But what Llaneras has been doing with his game the last three months or so has been truly remarkable and has the senior who just graduated, thinking big things when it comes to a future in golf.
Two Sundays ago, Llaneras competed in the National Junior PGA Championship qualifier at the Diplomat in Hollywood. Needing only a top 10 finish out of the 51 entries in order to qualify for this week’s National Junior PGA Championship Tournament, slated for this Thursday and Friday, June 19-20 at Boca Grove Resort in Boca Raton, Llaneras did a whole heckuva lot better than that.
He won it.
Not only did he win it, but actually “blew away the field” much the same way Martin Kaymer pulled away to win last weekend’s U.S. Open.
Llaneras went out and fired a three-under par 69 on the 7,000 yard-plus Diplomat course and when all the scores came into the clubhouse, his closest pursuer, Rafa Martinez, ironically from Columbus, was a full six shots behind him with a three-over 75 to take second place. Llaneras’ Springs teammate Kyle Safreed also teed it up and fired a 12-over par 84, just missing the top 10 by a single shot.
“Everything was clicking and working out there,” said Llaneras. “You really don’t necessarily worry about what anyone else is doing, just bare down and concentrate on your own game and I really played well as all aspects of my game, hitting fairways, greens in regulation and putting was working.I’m really pleased with where my game is at right now and looking forward to this week and beyond.”
He should be. Right after Llaneras is done competing in this week’s National Junior PGA Championship, one of 72 players in the field, Llaneras will be hopping on a plane this Sunday and heading for Buffalo, N.Y.
Last March, Llaneras joined a very exclusive club when he was just one of 80 golfers, worldwide, to be invited to play in the all-expenses paid, 62nd International Junior Masters which will take place June 23-27 at East Aurora Country Club just outside of Buffalo.
“The invitation is based on your entire junior golf resumé as a whole and I was just so excited when I got the invite,” said Llaneras. “It’s been the world’s most prestigious golf event since 1953 and when I heard the names of some past winners, I got even more excited.”
Some of the names Llaneras was referring to include current tour players Camilo Villegas, Matt Every, Rory Sabbatini, Woody Austin, Tim Clark along with former Masters champ Trevor Immelman, former U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk and the biggest headliner,two-time and recent Masters winner Bubba Watson.
“I’ve been working so hard to get ready for this tournament because if you do well, maybe finish top five, it can open so many more doors for you,” said Llaneras. “And now qualifying for the PGA Junior Championship is the perfect tuneup leading into the Junior Masters so I couldn’t have asked for a better setup. This is really exciting stuff.”
Llaneras will enjoy a practice round at East Aurora after arriving on Sunday and then be paired up with a roommate for the week.
“I think it’s a kid from Germany,” said Llaneras.
Llaneras will then participate in Monday’s Ham-Am Fundraiser, an afternoon long drive contest and a formal introductory dinner before an early bedtime with a 7 a.m. shotgun start on Tuesday morning for the single medal round.
Wednesday morning will bring a second 18-hold round at which time the field will be cut to the top 32 players for match play competition beginning on Wednesday afternoon.
More match play rounds will be held on Thursday followed by the semi-final matches on Friday morning and championship match on Friday afternoon.
“When you look at all the names that have played in this in the past, it makes you realize what an exciting opportunity this is,” said Llaneras. “It was like a dream come true to play in such a prestigious golf event.”
No matter how successful he is in these two big upcoming tournaments, that won’t change what Llaneras has planned for the immediate future and that is school.
He is currently enrolled to attend Miami-Dade College, Wolfson Campus this fall (which has no golf team) but, if all goes well school-wise, has every intention of heading north to Gainesville to see if he can “walk-on” the University of Florida golf team, a program that has produced a laundry list of world-class golfers including Billy Horschel, Chris DiMarco, Camilo Villegas among many other big names.
He also has plans of going out and giving Monday morning “rabbit” qualifiers for various PGA tournaments a try as well.
Perhaps, but Llaneras is part of a large and growing group of young and super-talented young golfers on the course these days that are turning on their TVs every Sunday afternoon and watching the likes of Jordan Spieth, Matthew Fitzpatrick and Max Homa, players who have yet to see their 21st birthday, competing a high level on the big PGA stage.
It’s called “chasing the dream” and Llaneras is ready to begin the chase, no matter the odds.
“I’ve really worked hard over the last few years to shave strokes off my score and even though I still have plenty of work in front of me, I plan on continuing to work hard,” said Llaneras whose short 5-8, slight frame won’t mistake him for the Dustin Johnson’s of the tour. “I’ve hit the weight room and bulked up and managed to add yardage to my drives where I’m getting it out there about 275 to 285 these days. I have Taylor-Made helping me out with some of the most updated technology and equipment thanks to Alf’s Golf Shop in Doral.”
Llaneras, who works part-time at Alf’s, says he spends up to 40 hours a week honing his game, whether it be rounds of golf at the Biltmore or showing up at Miami Springs Country Club at night to take advantage of a driving range with lights.
“I’m really going after this,” said Llaneras. “I sat there and watched what Erik Compton did at the U.S. Open this past weekend (Compton is a two-time heart transplantee from South Florida who finished second to Kaymer) and it makes you understand what determination, hard work, courage and dreaming can do. It’s a dream worth chasing.”