BYU golf coach Bruce Brockbank remembers the first time he saw Jose Garrido play golf. It was in a Junior World tournament in San Diego four years ago. His reaction? "I've got to find a way to get that kid," he said to himself.
After watching his impressive golf that week, Brockbank offered the Colombian native a scholarship, and to his delight, Garrido accepted.A few months later after making an immediate impact his freshman year at BYU, one day Garrido told his coach, "Hey, I've got a friend who is pretty good."
Brockbank was all ears and after checking out Garrido's buddy, he offered a scholarship to Manuel Merizalde the following year.
Today as the Cougars embark on their first NCAA journey in six years, the "Colombian Connection" may determine if the Cougars turn into contenders or pretenders.
Garrido and Merizalde join their better known teammates, Scott and Andy Miller -- Johnny's boys -- and Billy Harvey of Las Vegas at the NCAAs in Chaska, Minn., along with 29 other teams trying to win the championship at Hazeltine National Golf Club. The tournament runs through Saturday.
So how did these two guys from Colombia, not exactly known as a hotbed for golf, end up at BYU, in Provo, Utah?
The Colombian connection actually goes back several years to Eduardo Herrera, who played with Brockbank at BYU in the late 1980s. According to Garrido and Merizalde, Herrera is the Jack Nicklaus of Colombia and he has recently found great success playing in Japan and Europe.
Herrera is from Cali, the same city where Garrido and Merizalde grew up. As youngsters, the two became acquainted with the famous pro, even though they are a decade younger.
Although Herrera put in a good word for his old school, he wasn't the main reason Garrido and Merizalde chose BYU.
Garrido had a chance to go to Stanford or Arizona but chose BYU for a variety of reasons.
"I definitely wanted to go to a good school, and I had friends who had come here," he said. "I also knew Andy (Miller) and knew they had a good team here."
Garrido was friends with Merizalde, who played at the same golf club in Cali so he put the Cougars on his young friend's trail. For Merizalde, it came down to UNLV and BYU and guess where his parents wanted him to go? Not Las Vegas.
The only problem was, Merizalde didn't speak fluent English like Garrido, who had learned it as a child. So Merizalde spent last year learning English at the BYU Language Center and now speaks English very well.
Merizalde started slowly but came on strong late in his freshman season, capping it off by winning the WAC individual championship at Monterey, Calif., last month.
"Obviously, he's turned into a gem," Brockbank said of Merizalde.
Garrido, a junior in eligibility, has yet to win a tournament but has been one of the most consistent players on a deep, talented Cougar team. He was a regular as a freshman and a sophomore (top five on team) and finished third at a tournament in Reno last year. This year he has three top-10 finishes and the low round on the team with a 65. At the NCAA West Regional, he led with a 68 after the first round before finishing eighth.
Neither Garrido nor Merizalde is LDS, but they've fit in well at BYU where about 98 percent of the students are Mormon, and they have no regrets about their decisions.
"I love it up here," says Garrido. "I think it's a great culture."
Garrido's strengths on the golf course are his long and straight driving and how he manages his game. "I don't ever get angry out there," he said.
For Merizalde, it's his chipping and putting and course management. "He has a knack for avoiding bogeys," said one teammate.
Brockbank couldn't be happier with his two South American players.
"These guys have come in and worked hard and taken advantage of the opportunity," said Brockbank. "It's not easy for them with all the rules, but they understand why Mom and Dad like it so much. I know Manuel's mom couldn't be happier."
The Colombian connection might even get longer next year. You see, there's this kid in Cali, who is a pretty good golfer and he happens to be a friend of Garrido and Merizalde's, and he's looking for a place to play college golf and . . .