Missouri golfer Emilio Cuartero aims high

Saturday, April 7, 2012 | 7:33 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — As he walks through the halls of the Mizzou Athletics Training Complex, Emilio Cuartero suddenly stops. His eyes drift over the giant plaque that lists each of Missouri’s All-Americans. He extends his sun-tanned, callused fingers to the heading marked Men’s Golf and speaks, his thick Catalonian accent coating every word.

“Here,” Cuartero says.“When I am done here, this is where I want to be.”

Next week's tournament

Fifth annual Mizzou Intercollegiate men's golf tournament

WHEN: 36 holes played on Monday, followed by 18 holes played on Tuesday
The Club at Old Hawthorne
Missouri, Austin Peay, Belmont, Binghamton, Cincinnati, Creighton, Iowa State, IUPUI, Nebraska, Northern Illinois, Northern Iowa, Oral Roberts, Purdue, South Dakota State and Wisconsin

Missouri won last year's event with then-sophomore Jace Long earning the individual title

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Three years ago, Cuartero would not have been able to speak that sentence. 

The 21-year-old MU sophomore from Lleida, Spain did not start learning English until he was 18 and had never been to the United States before stepping foot in Columbia a few weeks before his freshman year.

As an amateur golfer, Cuartero dominated in Europe. At 16, Cuartero became the second youngest player to win the British Boys Championship, was a two-time winner of the Jaques Leglise Trophy, which is an annual match between Great Britain and continental Europe, and was the No. 1-ranked amateur golfer in Spain.

All of which can be considered minor accomplishments compared to the rate at which Cuartero has absorbed the English language during his time at Missouri. 

Cuartero admits that he wasn’t a very good student during high school. He struggled to meet the NCAA’s academic standards. However, Cuartero worked tirelessly to qualify. He retook the SAT four times, getting “a little bit better each time,” and had to drive five hours from his home in Lleida to take the TOEFL, a test used by most American colleges to evaluate one’s ability to use English in an academic setting.

Once his academics were in order, Cuartero accepted a scholarship to Missouri, without meeting any of his future teammates or head coach Mark Leroux in person.

"After they offered me a scholarship, I Googled Mizzou, poked around a bit and said 'Yeah, this looks good, I'll come,'" Cuartero said.

Leroux first became aware of Cuartero after a friend of his who runs a recruiting service in Spain tipped him off.

"I looked at his resume, and after that I had no problem giving him an offer without ever seeing him play," Leroux said. "If you win the British Boys Championship you are pretty good."

While Cuartero's talents on the golf course were undeniable, there were still concerns about how he would perform in the classroom once he got to campus.

Cuartero still possessed remedial English skills when he arrived in Columbia and was put into the English as a Second Language program provided by MU.

From the start of his first class at MU, Cuartero applied the same furious work ethic that helped him become such a decorated amateur golfer to his school work.

An agriculture major, Cuartero achieved higher than a 3.0 GPA in each of his first three semesters at MU, and according to Leroux, his English has improved dramatically.

"He really has worked so hard at it," Leroux said. "He really put the time in, and he has excelled with flying colors."

"I just feel so blessed, everyone on the team has helped me so much," Cuartero said. "Anytime I have a question about anything, they support me."

Cuartero's vocabulary is impressive for someone who is still new to the English language. He uses big words and expressive sentences, as if every time he speaks he is testing himself, trying to get better with each syllable.

Cuartero's grasp of the English language is not complete though.

"There are a lot of times where he doesn't know what certain things mean," Hunter Kraus, Cuartero's roomate and teammate, said. "Like sometimes people will tell a joke, and he will get frustrated and think that they are laughing at him. But really they are just joking."

"I am starting to no longer laugh just to laugh." Cuartero said. "I'm laughing because I actually get the joke."

Cuartero is slowly starting to adjust to learning the English language and culture. Last week, he discovered what it meant for someone to have a "blonde moment," but remnants of his life over in Europe remain.

He still measures things using the metric system and, according to Kraus, has unusual living habits.

"He insists on having the windows closed even when there is no air conditioning, it gets so hot," Kraus said. "He also puts olive oil on everything. I don't get it, but he says that they do that stuff in Europe."

Although Kraus might have a hard time understanding Cuartero's temperature and condiment preferences, there is no question when it comes to the Spaniard's abilities as a golfer.

Cuartero is currently the Tigers' No. 2 golfer and won his first tournament last year at the Washington State Snowman Getaway, shooting a career low 7-under-par 65 in the second round.

"He is really important for us. If he doesn't play well, our team is not going to play well," Leroux said. "Him and Jace (Long) are our one-two punch."

Cuartero's goals as a golfer are substantial. He wants to play on the PGA Tour and win all four majors in a row because "no one has done it before."

But his goals in life are simple.

"I just want to stay in America, meet people and keep working and get a degree," Cuartero said. "I would like to raise a family here. You know, meet a girl, have the big house and all of that. But right now, I am just enjoying everything."

Even though he is still learning the nuances of English, Cuartero said he abides by the Latin phrase carpe diem, meaning seize the day.

"That is something I think about all the time," Cuartero said. "I am am very blessed to be in this position right now, and I don't want to waste a minute of it."

"When you see someone like that, it opens all of our eyes and reminds us that we all have a real unique opportunity right now, and we all need to take advantage of it," Leroux said. "He helps remind our whole team that we cannot take anything for granted."

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