Rafael “Rafa” Campos is one of Puerto Rico’s rising stars in the world of golf. With only twenty years of age (and eleven of those as a golfer), this young Puerto Rican’s promising career has seen him win the Puerto Rico Island Amateur tournament two years ago and play several Pro Tournament events, including the Tour De Las Americas in Ponce, twice. This year, Rafa – whose is currently #170 – has been invited to play the PGA TOUR’s second annual Puerto Rico Open presented by Banco Popular. The event, to be held at the Trump International Golf Club in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico on March 12-15, 2009 is also Mr. Campos’s second time at the PR Open. Rafa was gracious enough to answer some of our questions going into the tournament. We wish him the best of luck!
A bit about your golfing
1. At what age did you start playing golf? Where did the interest come from?
I started playing golf when I was 9. My father and uncle were invited to play and decided to take all of my cousins and family members with them. Since then, golf has been an important part of my life.
2. Did golf come easily to you or was learning to play the sport challenging? Which aspects of your game have you worked on the most in order to improve your performance?
Learning to play golf has definitely been a challenge. I don’t think anyone considers the sport simple. I have dedicated much more time to perfecting my short game because in the end, your game comes down to chipping and putting. You don’t win tournaments by hitting the ball far but by getting the ball in the hole in the fewest amount of strokes.
3. Which part of your game would consider your strength? Which part do you have to practice the most?
I think that the mental aspect of the game is my strength. I believe that while every game played is a completely different experience, the mental approach going into a tournament is pretty much always the same. I know that I can start a tournament or a round playing horrendously and still battle my way into a good score. I still have to practice my putting a lot more and my approach shots from 60 yards and in. I have always been able to put the ball in play, but still would like to work on accuracy.
4. Do you model your game after a particular player? Which professional player would you say your game is most comparable to in terms of your strengths and weaknesses?
My all-time favorite player is Adam Scott. I would love to have Adam Scott’s swing and composure, but I have my own ways of getting around the course and I can’t complain about them. People say I look like Chris DiMarco, but I don’t know about that…
5. What other players do you look up to and why? What were some of your favorites growing up?
I definitely look up to Tiger Woods because of his ability to dominate every player and every hurdle that is placed in front of him. There’s also a group of Puerto Rican players that since little I’ve tried to follow in on their footsteps: Mauricio Muñiz, Erick Morales, Max Alverio, Miguel Suarez , and Wilfredo Morales – they’ve all had some type of impact on my game. Now, I have the opportunity to play beside and against them in World Class events!
6. Describe to us the best game you’ve ever played. Where did you play it? Any particular shots/plays that come to mind?
The best game I ever played was in Palmas del Mar, when I shot a 61 on the Palm Course. I remember the ball was going in the hole every time. I didn’t hit the ball good at all, but managed to make every shot when it came to putting! I also remember making a hole-in-one in St. Kitts on hole #15 during the Carribean Championships about 4 years ago.
About Puerto Rico…
7. Which are your favorite courses in the world? How about in Puerto Rico?
The Trump International Championship Course is probably the most challenging golf course in Puerto Rico. It’s always in great shape and the staff is unbelievably cordial to us. I grew up in Río Mar so I also like spending the occasional weekend hitting some balls over there. One of the most beautiful courses I’ve played in is the Dye Fore in the Dominican Republic. It’s built around a huge cliff so all the views are spectacular!
8. What did you take away from your experience playing in the 2008 PR Open? What did you learn from that experience that has helped in preparing for this year’s event?
I realized at last year’s event that you can’t judge your game by the results of a one week of playing. Duffy Waldorf told me during the third round that you have to make a long term commitment to your game and can’t get upset because of how you’re playing on any particular day. Improvement is a gradual process and talent is measured in the long run. I am going into this tournament a little more relaxed, knowing that I worked my way into it and strongly believing that I can compete with PGA Tour professionals any day. All I have to do is relax and enjoy the moment – but at the same time remain extremely focused.
9. What steps would you take to promote and help popularize golf in PR?
There should be a professional league in Puerto Rico. Argentina, Colombia, Chile, and many other countries have their own professional leagues that attract spectators to their tournaments. I believe this would help our local talent, keeping Puerto Rican professionals and their games at their highest levels, not only because of the potential prize money, but because it would provide them with opportunities to compete and be ready for World Class events.
10. What are your favorite spots on the island? Where do you like to hang out?
I like to go to La Placita in Santurce. It is very relaxing and I like to go particularly when there’s not a lot of people around, so I can hang out with my cousins, my friends, and my brother. I also like spending time with them in Old San Juan – the city being a constant reminder of our culture and heritage. Plus, we always run into people there.
11. What three places would you recommend to tourists visiting Puerto Rico for the first time and why?
You have to visit Old San Juan both during the day and at night – and you can take a break and visit the Ocean Park beach during the afternoon. You have to see El Morro, El Yunque, and Condado when you come to Puerto Rico.
12. Follow-up questions (a speed round): In Puerto Rico, what is your:
Favorite Beach – Ocean Park
Favorite Restaurant – Burbujas Café in La Esmeralda Ave. in the municipality of Guaynabo
Favorite Traditional Dish – Bistec Empanado a la Milanesa con arroz blanco (white rice)
Favorite Activity – Go out with cousins at night and meet with friends / Fishing
Favorite Spot to relax – Río Mar Villa
And… Back to golf!
13. If you could sit down with one player and pick his brain for a couple of hours, which one would it be and why? What would you ask?
Geoff Ogilvy. I would ask him why doesn’t he show any emotions while playing a golf tournament and how can he keep his composure so well when playing under pressure.
14. Who would take part in your “dream” foursome?
I would play with my dad, Tiger Woods, and Arnold Palmer.
15. Your favorite moment in your golf career has been …
When I won the Puerto Rico Island Amateur two years ago. It was certainly a big win and a personal goal of mine I got to achieve. Also, playing the Puerto Rico Open last year.
16. What short and long term goals do you have? Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years?
Right now I want to finish school and get my bachelor’s degree from Virginia Commonwealth University so I can focus on golf next. Golf wise, I want to better my game all around. I see myself playing full time in the PGA Tour in the next five to ten years. Obviously, I am going to need some support in order to jump start my career. I’d like to be able to find someone willing to invest in me when I turn pro because anyone trying to make a living at this sport is going to need some financial support to start off. Thankfully, the moral support will always be there from friends, family, and fans, but that is only part of being able to succeed as a professional.
17. Any advice to other players playing the PR Open for the first time?
Don’t go out of your routine. It could get windy and one thing most people do when there is a lot of wind is swing hard and hurry up. That’s something you don’t want to do at the course. Another thing is to remember to go out there and have fun. There’s going to be great weather and you should embrace the fact that you are going to be playing with some of the best players in the world.
18. Any advice to people traveling to Puerto Rico for the 2009 PR Open?
Get ready for some hot weather and exciting golf. Come and support us Puerto Ricans in this main event and go out and enjoy quality golf in a great course!