The Chipper from Chile: Martín León
Hearing the phrase that an athlete "eats, sleeps, and breathes their sport" can sound like a cliche, and while the saying can get overused, it defines freshman golfer Martín León.
León grew up in Santiago, Chile where his father, Juan Pablo began taking him to the course when he was only four years old. Over time, he began to take the game more seriously and set a goal for himself to one day represent Chile in national golf tournaments. He would continue to practice, and he particularly enjoyed the difficulties that golf presented as an individual sport.
"I really like the challenge of hitting a perfect shot," said León. "I think it's a very tough sport, which is what made me fall in love with the game."
Juan Pablo was León's golf coach from age four until 12 and he was not your average sports dad. Juan Pablo played collegiate golf at the University of North Alabama and was more than qualified to coach his son.
León's mom, Caroline, also enjoyed golfing so for the León family, golf was much more than a game. Their family may be competitive, but they have a tight bond that León will always cherish.
"Being in a sport family is really cool and I feel like I have a great support system," said León. "We all push each other to improve and have a great relationship."
The coaching and support he received from his family helped him to go on and achieve his goals of representing his country in national tournaments. He won both the Araucarias Open and the Sport Frances open in 2019, finished in third at the Chile Junior open in 2019 and finished in fourth at the 2017 Optimist International Championship.
Winning all of these were great achievements, but the biggest honor of León's career would be winning the 2017 South America Junior Championship. He became one of only two players from Chile to ever win the event and it will always hold a special place in his heart.
"You're not only playing for your country, but against so many other great players," said León. "It has always been one my goals to be number one in South America and to achieve that was awesome. It was such a fun tournament and winning it helped me a lot as a golfer with my confidence."
While that tournament was León's biggest win of his career, his favorite tournament was actually the 2019 Junior World Championships. The tournament was held in San Diego, Calif. and even though he tied for 31st among the field, he will never forget the incredible experience he had.
"Getting to play with the best players from around the world helped me improve my game a lot," said León. "The tournament lasted a whole week and I got the opportunity to spend lots of time with friends and family."
Playing in tournaments like this have allowed León to meet his closest friends and the chance to play all over North and South America since he was 10.
One of those friends, Joaquín Niemann, would go on to play in the PGA tour. Niemann is only three years older than León and recently became the first Chilean player to win on the PGA tour. León hopes to join him on the tour one day and tries to emulate his attitude and work ethic on the course.
Before it was time for him to choose a college though he would go on to attend a French boarding school in Chile. His schedule was very rigorous at the school and it made practicing golf difficult, but it did give him a new appreciation for the game.
"Whenever I had a rough week, I always looked forward to getting out on the course and enjoyed playing golf," said León. "It was a great distraction from everything going on in my world and I was still able to compete in high level tournaments."
Going to the school did help León master French, which is the third language he can speak having previously learned English and Spanish.
When he graduated from school it came time to figure out where he would be continuing to grow his game and academics. León ended up deciding on a school that prioritized both of these things in the University of Utah. He had wanted to come play in the U.S. since he was 14 and was excited for the opportunity ahead.
He always appreciated that Coach Chance Cain would check in with him every two weeks and once had a chance to visit the university, he was impressed by the team's facilities. León also liked that the U. had such a good medical field as he hopes to major in biology or psychology to prepare him for medical school.
"I could tell their team was on the rise and thought it would be nice to be a part of what they are building," said León.
He was also really excited for the opportunity to compete in the Pac-12 as he feels it is, "one of the best conferences for golf and the level of competition is very high." And since arriving on campus, he has really appreciated the way the team and coaching staff have welcomed him in.
"They are really good people that all want to help me on and off the course," said León.
The COVID-19 Pandemic made preparing for the current season difficult with León not being able to practice for seven months. Once he was able to practice again last fall, he decided it would be best for him to redshirt his first year as he adjusts to a college lifestyle and shakes the rust off his game.
The part of his game that he believes will require the least time to return to form are his putting and chipping, which he feels are the strongest aspects of his game.
He looks forward to helping the team out in the 2021-2022 season and hopes to turn pro once he graduates.