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Toledo Turned 'Great' Feeling into First Victory
Esteban Toledo had a positive premonition before the start of the Insperity Classic's final round at The Woodlands Country Club in Texas. And that feeling materialized as the 50-year-old rookie made it through a three-way sudden-death playoff to win the Insperity Championship for his first Champions Tour title.
In addition to becoming the first golfer from Mexico to win on the over-50 circuit, Toledo triumphed on one of his home nation's biggest holidays, Cinco de Mayo.
Toledo, a self-taught golfer who grew up in poverty in Mexicali, closed with a 5-under 67 to tie Gene Sauers and Mike Goodes in regulation at 6-under 210, then parred the third playoff hole to edge Goodes and take the winner's check of $255,000.
Toledo overcame a seven-stroke deficit to Sauers entering the final round. "I felt great this morning," he told reporters later. "I told my wife that I was going to go out and shoot a 66 and catch up with them. And I shoot 67; I guess that was good enough, but I was very focused on the game all day long.
"I was smiling to the crowd because that's - it reminds me of Lee Trevino how he plays. I was thinking about Lee, how he plays, and Fuzzy (Zoeller)."
Here's what else the happy-go-lucky Toledo - whose only previous win Stateside was the 2005 Lake Erie Charity Classic on the Web.com Tour - had to tell the media Sunday evening.
MODERATOR: Quite a day out there, you became the first player from the country of México to win on the Champions Tour, shooting 67 which matched the best final round score today. Hard fought, three hole playoff victory, your first on the Champions Tour, and you come from seven back, which on the 10th anniversary of this tournament, Larry Nelson did it in the inaugural, so congratulations, you join Rocco as the second first time winner in your ninth start on the Champions Tour. Take us through the day, you started with an eagle on the first hole and were really playing good.
ESTEBAN TOLEDO: First of all I just want to say thanks to all the sponsors and all the media and all the fans in Houston, I think it was wonderful to have this wonderful event, and the tournament director did such a good job and the whole staff with everything. Hole 1, I started with a driver, chipped it in from 25 yards and that got me going, thinking that I - I told my caddie, I was going to shoot 66 to have a chance. And so I hit a great tee shot on the second hole and then it was fine, made par and went on and on and on. When I birdied 10, I started thinking -
MODERATOR: What did you do on 10?
ESTEBAN TOLEDO: I hit driver and 8 iron off the green. It was almost on the green. I made the putt, and then I birdied 13 or something, hit another birdie. Then I birdied 15. My caddie told me to go for it. I think it was one of the keys right there, that I birdied that one and I went for it and No. 16 and 17 and 18.
But I felt great this morning. I told my wife that I was going to go out and shoot a 66 and catch up with them. And I shoot 67; I guess that was good enough, but I was very focused on the game all day long. I was smiling to the crowd because that's - it remind me of Lee Trevino how he plays. I was thinking about Lee, how he plays and Fuzzy. When I got to the 18th hole, I was so nervous and I hit a driver right down the center and hit a pitching wedge - no, a 52. I never hit it that far before. The adrenaline was catching up with me.
I was very in control of my game all day long, and I got phone calls from México texting me that I need a 66, 67 to have a chance, because the wind was blowing pretty hard all week. I never lost control, and in the playoff, it was the same. My caddie said: I can't believe it; I've never seen you so focused on the game before. The more pressure it gets to you, it seems like you hit it straighter and better.
I was very lucky that Gene went on the left side on 17 and he had a tough, tough third shot and when he missed the putt, I couldn't believe it. I wanted him to make the putt because he played so well all week, and I want to win on the 18th hole. It didn't happen but I want to win on the last hole. But I guess after three holes, I think it was enough and the crowd had a wonderful time. The most important thing, the fans are the ones that they enjoy it the most.
MODERATOR: Can you talk about your putts on 13 and 15?
ESTEBAN TOLEDO: 13, I hit about an 8 footer straight down and I made it.
MODERATOR: What did you hit in there?
ESTEBAN TOLEDO: I had 92 yards to the hole and into the wind and my caddie told me to trust the shot. I know it was water on the other side, so I went at it. I knew I had a chance. I hit a 59 degree. It was right by the hole.
MODERATOR: And 15, you were on in two.
ESTEBAN TOLEDO: I was in the rough when I hit my driver and my caddie told me to go for it. That's the only chance we have to make birdie. And I hit a beautiful second shot with a 3 wood and landed a little bit in front. I missed the putt but I birdied that one.
MODERATOR: The eagle putt was how far?
ESTEBAN TOLEDO: It was about 20 feet. And so I asked one of the Tour officials what was going on, because I never saw the leaderboard. So I asked Joe to see who was winning, and he told me that I probably could be tied for the lead. So I told my caddie to go up there to the 17th hole and play aggressive, and that's pretty much what I did.
MODERATOR: Once it became a three man playoff, can you take us through the playoff holes.
ESTEBAN TOLEDO: Well, the first 18, I was a little bit nervous. I had never been in that situation before so pretty much I didn't know what to do to be honest with you. But my caddie keep telling me to stay in the game and hit it a little bit on the right side and the wind caught it, but seemed like it hit the tree or something but I was in bounds. I hit an 8 iron 180 yards or something, something ridiculous.
I guess when the adrenaline is going into your body - I was just pumped up. I hit an 8 iron right over the flag. I hit off the green and chipped really well to get me going with the other two guys.
MODERATOR: And then 18 again.
ESTEBAN TOLEDO: That 18, I was a little more into the game. I hit a beautiful 3 wood and 9 iron on the green, which is pretty long for a 9 iron. And I can't believe I missed the putt. I thought I made it. It was dead center about a foot, dead center, and the ball went to the left side, and I just couldn't believe I missed.
But I never lost confidence, never lost focus. This is the main thing that I don't know why, I guess it was meant to be, and I promised my brother, who died a few months ago, that I was going to win for him. And I think he kind of stopped thinking that way, amazing, I was thinking about my brother a little bit coming to the last hole.
Q. What was his name?
ESTEBAN TOLEDO: Mario.
Q. Obviously he must have died somewhat tragically?
ESTEBAN TOLEDO: He was 56, and I was in Los Cabos San Lucas, playing golf with my friends when I heard the news. He just died, like that was before Toshiba, it was the same week of Toshiba and I went to México and saw him, and I turned around right away to play. I was going to skip that week the Toshiba Classic because my brother died, but my family pushed me and my wife pushed me to go back to Newport Beach and play, play for him, and my whole family México supported me for that. I went back and did it and that's when I started playing really well, I finished three Top 10s in the last four weeks.
Q. When you found out that he was very ill, you had a chance to speak with him and say you wanted to win for him?
ESTEBAN TOLEDO: He was in a hospital in San Diego, and my wife was the first one to arrive there in the hospital and the next day he died early, like 8:00 in the morning I think. It was tough for me, losing a brother but at the same time, I have goals and dreams in my life, and he is supposed to, be with me, we don't see each other very often. And somehow, it just I couldn't do anything for him and he died and it's a little tough for me, but I promised him something and I done it.
Q. Given everything that's happened, the story today, coming from seven back, thinking about your brother, seems hard to imagine any greater moment for you in golf; is that possible?
ESTEBAN TOLEDO: You know, we are a family, and we have played golf all our lives. You know, sometimes it's difficult, but - I don't know, somehow
Q. On top of everything else, it was Cinco de Mayo.
ESTEBAN TOLEDO: Cinco de Mayo is probably more special I guess, in México, in the news than talking about me probably. It's a special day for me. It's a holiday and it's just winning on that day is the most incredible thing I've ever done, because winning on the Champions Tour, it's hard. I have dreams and goals in my life that I was going to win on the Champions Tour, and I think I'm going to keep winning. I believe in myself that I can go up there and win again and again and again.
I asked some of the tournament directors for a sponsor exemption already before those guys come in in June and I guess now I don't have to. But I've still got to be the same. I've still got to support every Monday and play the Pro Ams and that's the way I am. I have to go to the British Open and a bunch of tournaments which is great, but I just want to be myself.
Q. Even when you were a child, and I know you were in pretty difficult circumstances, did your family celebrate Cinco de Mayo?
ESTEBAN TOLEDO: No, we don't celebrate in México as much in the U.S. it's more Americanized - we still do. It's history and everything. It's really an amazing day, the history; that no Mexican ever won this tournament. It's a privilege for me to be here to be honest with you.
Q. Did you think you were close on the regular PGA Tour? Were you disappointed to play for six, seven years and not be able to win there?
ESTEBAN TOLEDO: I was very disappointed. I played with Tiger three times and twice in the final day, and lost to Faxon in New York. It bothers me, I always wanted to play the Masters, I played for so long out there. But winning is everything. And coming up here to the Champions Tour, I wasn't expecting anything.
But I knew that if I work hard and if I practice from 8:00 in the morning until 5:30 in the afternoon, that's my time. Sooner or later, I'm just going to win. David Frost told me that, Trevino told me that; all these guys keep telling me. John Mahaffey came over last week and said: If you keep swinging like the way you're swinging, you're going to win soon. I guess he was right. But that's because I have the courage to do it. I have a lot of discipline and I believe in people who believes in me. You know, the trophy is going to go to my daughter, that is amazing. I want to win that trophy so bad for my daughter, because it's hers, it's not mine. I'm going to win another one. Just very, very happy to be here and I'm going to enjoy it tonight with my friends.
Q. You mentioned your caddie several times; what is his name and does he normally talk to you that much and tell you to go for it?
ESTEBAN TOLEDO: Yeah, Larry Dittman, he really helped me in the playoff to stay focused on the game and keep telling me, just finish your swing. That's what Ben Crenshaw told me two weeks ago when I lost in Atlanta. And Ben Crenshaw, I went to talk to Ben Crenshaw and said, any pointers. He said, just stay with a good rhythm, you'll win soon. And my caddie telling me that, it was unbelievable, because we're together, you know, I am the player, but he knows my swing, and telling me all positive things on the golf course that really helped me. Obviously I've been working with my coach, Eric, in California, but my caddie really, really got me in the game.
Q. Your caddie, has he been with you for a while?
ESTEBAN TOLEDO: He's been working with me for a while. I went to the Tour School with him. We grew up in northern California and he's a really nice friend mostly than a caddie really because I treat him as a friend outside the golf course. We enjoy ourselves together and go out and eat and fast food - he can't afford it, so I have to go with him all the time. He's like my best friend.
MODERATOR: Congratulations. You have two years in Hawaii, you probably didn't know that. On 17, what did you hit in on the playoff hole.
ESTEBAN TOLEDO: I hit a rescue and a pitching wedge both times.
MODERATOR: And the putt was about 12 feet?
ESTEBAN TOLEDO: The putt was about 15 feet.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.