OSU's Velasquez on quest to be the best

Oct. 21, 2009

By Brooks Hatch
Gazette-Times reporter

Read the entire story at gazettetimes.com.

To be the best, you must first beat the best.

Oregon State golfer Diego Velasquez did just that - and in convincing fashion, to boot - at the Bank of Tennessee Intercollegiate tournament in Jonesborough, Tenn., this past weekend. The long-hitting senior from Bogota, Colombia, crushed defending NCAA champion Matt Hill of North Carolina State and the rest of the field by seven strokes to capture his third career tournament championship.

Velasquez shot a 10-under par 206 over 54 holes under cold, wet and windy conditions at the 7,147-yard, par 72 The Ridges Golf and Country Club. He led wire-to-wire after opening with a sizzling 6-under 66, which included five birdies - four in a row at one point - on the back nine.

'I do get in a zone,' he said Tuesday in analyzing his third consecutive impressive outing this fall. 'It's my own little world; I just try to stay inside there and don't let anybody else come inside it. It's just me out there, doing my thing.

'It shows that I'm doing the right things, on and off the course. I played well throughout the summer and I placed in the top five in our first two tournaments. I had some good momentum, and I knew I was close to winning.'

His performance did not go unrewarded. He was selected as Golfweek magazine's College Player of the Week on Monday, the latest progression for someone who started the season with the third-lowest career scoring average (72.73) in school history.

'He's always been a great competitor; he has the intangibles you can't coach,' OSU coach Brian Watts said. 'You hope your players get better every year and with Diego, you knew it was there. He's always been an aggressive ball-striker, and he putts well.

'You put those together, and you're going to shoot some low numbers. Now he has the mentality to keep things very simple and plays a little more conservatively when things aren't going well, which lets his bad rounds be around par versus two-, three- or four-over.'

Valasquez exemplifies college golf's growing international presence. He grew up in Bogota, Colombia, and lived in England and then in Texas for two years each while his father, a real estate developer, worked on different projects.

His family belonged to a country club in Bogota and he started playing with his father and grandfather at 6 years of age. He quit playing soccer at 12 to concentrate on golf.

'I fell in love with the game and decided to go with golf because that's where my heart was,' he said.

He eventually played in numerous international tournaments and rose to No. 2 in Colombia's junior rankings.

The Beavers discovered him by happenstance. Ex-OSU golfer Eric Fiskum was paired with Valasquez in two tournaments in Colombia while Fiskum played in the South American amateur.

Fiskum learned that Velasquez wanted to play college golf, and suggested he check out OSU. Velasquez and Watts traded e-mails, established a relationship and Velasquez fell in love with OSU and Corvallis on his recruiting trip.

'It's the Pac-10. Any school in the Pac-10 is a cool school,' Velasquez said. 'You're competing against the best players in the country, and more than wanting to go to a big, big school, I wanted to (find) a family atmosphere.

'It's just perfect around here, so peaceful. I used to live in a big city, Bogota has eight million people. I wanted to get out of that and be able to focus on what I wanted to do. This is the perfect place.'

A little divine intervention from the weather gods didn't hurt OSU's chances against Pepperdine, UCLA and other schools that were interested, either.

'He visited in the spring, and it happened to be 75 degrees that day, like it always is in Corvallis, 365 days of the year,' Watts said, tongue in cheek. 'His parents really like the smaller community where he could focus on golf and school and not have a lot of distractions. It's a great fit for us.'

Velasquez hopes to play professionally and said he thinks his life experience - living on three continents, attending school far from home, frequently making friends in new environments - gives him a head start over others with an identical objective.

'You have to be out there by yourself. You will not have your teammates or coach,' as a pro, he said. 'I adapt well to new conditions. I think that will help me a lot.'

However, his quest won't begin until 2011, after he graduates with a degree in new communications.

'That was my goal when I first came,' he said. 'When I finish that, I'll think about what I want to do.'

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