Venezuela’s Ramirez Takes Life in Stride with Help from Tour Professional

Most days, Jose Miguel Ramirez leaves for school around 7 a.m., gets out around 2:30 p.m. and – after a snack – heads over to San Miguel Country Club for practice.

Then he goes home to work on his putting.

“Putting on the carpet is actually more like a real green than at the course,” Ramirez said.

Strange as that might sound, it is the reality of Ramirez’s situation in his hometown of Maturin, Venezuela, where the country’s economic and political crises have left so many institutions – including golf courses – struggling to survive.

The grass at his course’s driving range is spongy and ever-sprouting, the frequent rain in eastern Venezuela making it nearly impossible to keep the turf closely mown. The greens, too, are overgrown and bumpy, leaving Ramirez to try and simulate a tournament-level putting surface in his own house.

“It is what life is,” he said. “There is nothing I can do about it.”

Even with those challenges, the 17-year-old Ramirez has developed his game to the point where he is at El Camaleon Golf Club this week, competing in his first Latin America Amateur Championship (LAAC). He shot a 5-over 76 in the opening round, highlighted by birdies on the sixth and 10th holes. He improved on that performance during the second round with 4-over 75 to make the cut at T-19.

Ramirez knows he will have to play better to have a chance at threatening the lead, but is confident in his ability.

“Conditions were hard with the wind. My tee shots were quite good but the putts didn’t follow,” he said.

Simply being at the LAAC, though, is an accomplishment as Ramirez looks at his own progression in a step-by-step manner. While he still occasionally plays soccer and baseball like most of his friends back home, he is focusing in on golf to help him move away from the difficulties of life in his home country.

“One of my goals for 2019 was to be here in 2020,” he said. “I would like to go to college in the (United States) and I want to work to do whatever I can to make that happen.”

Ramirez has at least one high-profile golfer who likes his chances. Jhonattan Vegas, who also grew up in Maturin, has been on the PGA Tour since 2011 and has been working to try and help young golfers in Venezuela through a series of junior competitions that he sponsors there.

The events, which usually attract about 60 players, Ramirez said, are held over two days and give players like Ramirez an opportunity to earn amateur rankings points as well as experience the pressures of competition.

Vegas, who has followed Ramirez’s progress closely, said he has spent a lot of time with Ramirez and described him as someone who is “winning a lot” and “has a great game.”

For his part, Ramirez is grateful for Vegas’s support and sees him as an inspiration. He said one of his personal highlights was getting to spend time with Vegas at Vegas’s home in Houston, where the two played and practiced together at The Woodlands.

It was, Ramirez said, an eye-opening experience. At one point on the 17th hole, Vegas lined up a 30-yard pitch to a green with water just behind the pin. As Ramirez watched, the tour pro smoothly holed out the shot, prompting Ramirez to joke that Vegas had been lucky.

Unbothered, Vegas dropped another ball down and promptly holed that one out, too.

“It was amazing,” Ramirez said. “To be able to do things like (Vegas) is something that I’m dreaming about.”

A good week here at the Latin America Amateur could go a long way in helping Ramirez see those dreams come true.