Munoz making a name for himself in Memphis
MEMPHIS, Tenn. – When you talk about golf’s famous Class of 2011, you have to start with Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas, but there’s also FedEx St. Jude Classic defending champion Daniel Berger, and then of course there’s Sebastian Munoz. Wait. Who? The was the question at TPC Southwind as Munoz, a Colombian who played for the University of North Texas, shot 67 to tie for the lead at 9 under par halfway through the FedEx St. Jude. At 197th in the FedExCup standings and 373rd in the Official World Golf Ranking, Munoz was suddenly T1 with Chez Reavie (65) and Charl Schwartzel (66). “I’m super happy,” Munoz said. “I’m really proud of the way I played today. I had one mistake, but I think a pretty good bogey on 18, so I was just happy to be able to step it up.” These guys are good—that’s how the PGA TOUR slogan goes. But it could just as easily be: There are a lot of good guys. So many, in fact, that a few sometimes slip through the cracks. Who is Sebastian Munoz? HUMBLE BEGINNINGS Munoz, 24, is often asked to provide ID when entering PGA TOUR locker rooms. “It happens all the time,” he said with a smile. “I don’t mind.” The good thing is, he surprises people all the time, too. Consider Munoz’s zero-to-hero college career at North Texas, where the coach, Brad Stracke, discovered him through a Latin American recruiting service. “I’ll tell you the truth: The coach was the only one who sent me an airplane ticket to check it out,” Munoz said. “I did, and I was like, of course I’m going to go. I had fun that weekend, and they had a couple Latin players, Carlos Ortiz and Rodolfo Cazaubon. It felt right.” Alas, Munoz didn’t play his first two years, as Ortiz, who plays the Web.com Tour, and Cazaubon—PGA TOUR Latinoamerica, and Munoz’s Dallas housemate—took starring roles. “He wasn’t really into it,” Stracke says. “He was just there to study, and was just going through the motions with the golf. He was going to take over his parents’ business in Colombia. Then he saw Carlos Ortiz make it to the Web.com Tour and win, and it got him thinking. “We have these end-of-the-year meetings, and between his sophomore and junior years we sat down in my office. He said, ‘Coach, those other guys have graduated. This is my time. I’m going to play well. I’m going to carry the weight.’ I’m like, where is this coming from? He had hardly played. It’s cool when a kid says that and then comes out and does it.” Munoz shot 71-63-69 to win the Jim River Intercollegiate and set a school record for 54 holes. He ditched his first name (Juan) for his middle name (Sebastian), necessitating new letters on his golf bag. He won the Conference USA individual championship as a senior, and shot 65 to beat his man and help North Texas win the team title over Alabama-Birmingham. A far cry from the guy who’d wandered aimlessly around Denton for two years, Munoz got a degree in business management, and turned pro. Last year he got a sponsor’s exemption to play in the Club Colombia Championship Presented by Claro, a Web.com Tour event, and he won to kick-start a pro career that had once looked like a pipe dream. JUST NEEDS MORE REPS For Munoz, who finished 22nd on last year’s Web.com Tour money list, the biggest challenge has not been learning courses but simply getting into tournaments. He got into the AT&T Byron Nelson (T50), but not the DEAN & DELUCA Invitational at Colonial. That one hurt a lot, what with being so close and yet so far in his adopted home state of Texas. “I just hid in my room,” he said. “I didn’t want to know anything about it.” Until Thursday, when Munoz shot a 6-under 64 in the first round of the FedEx St. Jude, he didn’t know much of anything about TPC Southwind, either. He’d never even played the front nine, but got tips over dinner from countryman Camilo Villegas, a four-time TOUR winner. It must have been some dinner. “I’ve been putting the ball in the fairway,” Munoz said, “and capitalizing on some putts.” As for his more famous fellow alumni of the Class of 2011, he’s not only never beaten them, he’s never even met them. That’s because Munoz sat the bench his first two years at North Texas, after which Spieth (Texas) and Thomas (Alabama) turned pro. Today, those guys already have fat bank accounts and work their way through endless autograph lines. Munoz? Yes, well. Maybe someday. Is it extra pressure, he was asked, to not get into many tournaments and therefor know he has to make the most of the ones he does get into? “Yeah, I mean, you can see it that way,” he said. “I just see it as opportunities.” At the FedEx St. Jude, Munoz is eying the biggest opportunity of his career.
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