While not any of it was of the “can’t-miss” variety, plenty of golf talent has emerged out of Miami Springs over the years.
The one name that pops out most notably was Chris Allen. The Miami Herald’s Golfer of the Year back in 1989, Allen’s golfing career, which included a scholarship to the University of Miami, appeared bright.
But, for a large number of reasons, as can happen with young kids, “things didn’t work out.”
Well folks, virtually out of nowhere, somebody new has stepped to the forefront.
You would’ve never thought it just a few short years ago when he was a senior playing for the Miami Springs High School golf team, but 19-year-old Luke Llaneras, through plenty of hard work and knocking on a lot of doors creating multiple contacts and garnering sponsors, has emerged.
While some might say that being just 19 is too young, well, go tell that to some 21-year-old kid named Jordan Spieth who just won the U.S. Open on the heels of winning the Masters. Or a 15-year-old from Houston, Cole Hammer, who just competed in the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay.
Up until a few weeks ago, Llaneras was scheduled to go to Cleveland to compete in a Monday qualifier for a Web.com tour event before jetting across the pond to Scotland to compete in the British Amateur at the legendary Carnoustie course.
But as we found out trying to pin him down for an interview, plans change with Llaneras seemingly every 30 minutes.
Instead, he found himself jetting off to Puerto Rico to compete in the PRGA (Puerto Rico Golf Amateur) where he would finish seventh out of 67 golfers.
But while top-10ing in a tournament is always good, it was the contacts Llaneras made over there that really paid off.
“This whole summer has been crazy. I was supposed to go to Cleveland for the qualifier but got sick,” said Llaneras, a diabetic who deals with daily dosages of insulin. “Then I heard an inside scoop about Puerto Rico, about how they have a low-key tournament that saves spots for the Puerto Rico Open (played every March as a PGA opposite event to the WGC Cadillac Open at Doral) so I went over there and met up with a couple of buddies and wound up getting introduced to Chi Chi Rodriguez. I had met him (Rodriguez) before but didn’t know he was the head of the PRGA. Just talking to them, they told me I would be able to get a sponsor exemption into the event.”
Sure enough, because of his high finish and “the gift of gab,” his ability to sell himself, and the fact that Rodriguez, a former PGA champion, who is so revered in Puerto Rico that he “walks on water” in the golf world, Llaneras was offered a sponsor’s exemption entry into next year’s Puerto Rico Open.
“It’s a little different because there is a lot of qualifying over here in the states for events but over there (Puerto Rico), there’s more sponsor exemption stuff so they get more money for the tournament; so basically they said they’re going to put a spot together for me. I already have everything worked out, it’s going to be from Church’s Chicken and a PRGA sponsorship. They get 10 exemptions and I’m getting hooked up with Titleist as a sponsor as well. By the time I had done all of this it was just too late to go to Scotland with all of the time change and jet lag and I just really would not have had the time to prepare properly.”
So what happened? How could a 17-year-old kid that couldn’t drive the ball 250 yards down the fairway (I watched it with my own eyes) all of a sudden emerge as a legitimate golfing talent that can now pound it 280 to 300 yards and hit every fairway with accuracy?
“Coming into my junior year at Springs I really didn’t focus enough on golf or even school for that matter,” Llaneras said. “But at the start of my senior year I started hanging out with more of my golf friends, not necessarily from Springs but Columbus and Belen and that’s all I would do everyday would just play golf. I always loved golf and took it up in seventh grade but it wasn’t until then that I started to think that I could really advance my game if I got serious about it. My mom told me if you’re going to try and make this a career, you need to stop messing around with other sports and hanging out with your friends and focus on golf so every day I would be out there 10 in the morning till 8 at night hitting balls.”
His mom Christy is also a personal trainer which is why you barely recognized Llaneras from two years ago. At 5-5, what he lacks in height, he gained in weight and muscle mass which increased his strength and clubhead speed leading to the added length in his game, an absolute must if you’re going to have any chance of competing with the big boys.
But everyone has a starting point and ask Llaneras who really got him moving into the fast lane as far as his golfing portfolio and meeting people is concerned and he doesn’t hesitate. Roger Halphen, owner of Miami Springs Eye Care on the Circle is not only an avid golfer, but well-hooked up with lots if important people in the golfing community.
“I never really got any quality lessons until I got hooked up with one of my biggest individual sponsors, Roger,” Llaneras said. “He started introducing me to all kinds of important people over at Doral including Donald Trump who I have since played two different rounds of golf with and (Halphen) got me lessons twice a month with Jim Mclean (considered one of the top golf coaches in the business) and that’s where I really saw my swing improve. I owe a lot to Roger.”
Nevertheless, Llaneras knows it’s still a long road ahead and even though he’s meeting a lot of the right people which is leading his ability to garner sponsors, he still has a lot to work on with his game.
“The strongest part of my game, my accuracy off the tee,” said Llaneras who is not spurning his education, taking online courses from Johnson and Wales University when he’s not on the course.
“When I used to be not as long off the tee, I absolutely had to be in the fairway. Now I’m 280 to 300 off the tee but I’m straight as well because I always had to be before. My biggest achilles is my putting. Almost every golfer’s problem most of the time. That’s why I started to play a little less at Springs (he plays regularly on Tuesday in the Springs’ shootout tournament) with my buddies but I’m trying to play places like the Biltmore and Doral because the greens are a lot faster and more challenging.”
So away he goes. Llaneras didn’t play in this past Tuesday’s tournament at Springs because he was off to Ocala National Country Club, with former Springs teammate Kyle Safreed traveling along toting his bag, to compete in the Florida Amateur this weekend which will be his final amateur event before turning professional.
From there he’ll head back over to Puerto Rico to play as many rounds at Trump National in preparation for his PGA tour debut next March. Then comes the first stage of qualifying school for the Web.com tour in Brunswick, Ga in late August. The Gazette will try and keep tabs on his progress and keep our readers up to date.
Will he make it? Or will he go down “Chris Allen Avenue?” Who knows. The competition is fierce as there is young talent all over the place in the golfing world.
But Llaneras takes solace in one thing. Seven years ago there was a young 14-year-old phenom coming out of the Dallas, Texas area that had “can’t-miss” written all over him. And he didn’t. His name? Oh yeah, that’s right – Jordan Spieth. Good luck Luke. May the birdie putts fall often.