Chacarra, 22, skipped his senior year of college to join LIV Golf, winning in his fifth professional start to cash a large check much faster than he would’ve by competing in the PGA Tour’s Qualifying School
The idea of inviting highly-ranked amateurs or newly-turned pros to LIV Golf seemed strange when Greg Norman first proposed the idea back in April, some two months before his invitational series of events was set to launch.
But Norman, the commissioner and CEO of LIV Golf, had a plan with some merit: young players had no ties to the PGA Tour or DP World Tour; they could use LIV Golf as a place to launch their careers without the financial pressures. And by doing so, it might attract more to follow along.
Eugenio Chacarra is not the first player he approached, but he might ultimately be the best example.
Chacarra, 22, won the LIV Golf Invitational Series Bangkok event Sunday at Stonehill for his first professional victory in just his fifth start.
A former All-American for the Oklahoma State Golf team who planned to return to school this fall instead changed his mind and signed with LIV Golf in June. Now he’s captured his first professional event – and a $4 million winner’s check.
“I’ve got no words; it means a lot,’’ said Chacarra, who shot a final-round 69 to finish three shots ahead of Patrick Reed. “There’s no secret. It’s trusting yourself, putting in the hard work. I knew it was going to be hard today and I’m very pleased.’’
Chacarra shot a final-round 69 to finish three strokes ahead of Reed and four ahead of Paul Casey, Richard Bland and Sihwan Kim.
His 19-under-par-total also helped his Fireballs team, comprised of Sergio Garcia, Abe Ancer and Carlos Ortiz, to the team title.
Twice Reed, the 2018 Masters champion, got within a stroke of Chacarra only to see the Spaniard birdie the hole behind him and provide a cushion. Chacarra had started the round with a five-shot lead.
The last remaining obstacle was a lengthy weather delay. Chacarra had three holes to go when play was stopped for just more than 90 minutes. And the time actually allowed him to regroup and focus on what he had to accomplish.
Chacarra erased all doubt when he returned to the course and birdied the 17th hole.
The victory made Chacarra LIV’s sixth different winner in six events. It was especially gratifying as he had struggled in his first four events, finishing no better than a tie for 24th. That frustrated him, and Chacarra said part of it was simply nerves.
“We noticed in previous events how much he wants it,’’ Ancer said. “And we basically told him to relax, he has plenty of game and you saw it here.’’
He made a pledge to go back to the way he played in college, and part of that was a mantra to have fun and avoid bogeys. His only two bogeys for the week came over his first nine holes Sunday, allowing others to make it a bit uncomfortable for him.
Chacarra is one of a few young players who joined LIV Golf instead of returning to school or taking a shot at the PGA Tour. James Piot, who went to Michigan State, tied for sixth and earned $737,500. David Puig, who played at Arizona State, turned pro this summer and has played in three LIV events, including his pro debut in Chicago. He was not entered in Bangkok.
The issue for college golfers is making the leap to the professional game. For the past decade, there has been no direct access to the PGA Tour, unless a player is fortunate enough to secure sponsor exemptions and earn enough FedEx Cup points to become exempt.
Starting next year, there will be just five spots available each year through the PGA Tour’s Qualifying Tournament, with the majority going to the Korn Ferry Tour, a developmental circuit where 30 players will be able to gain access to the PGA Tour.
Chacarra was in line to get a spot on the Korn Ferry Tour, through a relatively new program called PGA Tour University, which ranks the top college players. But he noted that it only would have given him a handful of starts, with no guarantees.
So he elected to begin his career with LIV Golf, and reportedly signed a three-year deal that was greatly enhanced Sunday. Not only did he earn $4 million for first place, but he picked up another $750,000 as part of his share of the team title.
“My position is that of a player who is not a member of the PGA Tour or the DP World Tour, and I have not earned money while I am an amateur, so I can play in this league without problems,’’ Chacarra said when he disclosed his decision to join LIV Golf to the Spanish newspaper Marca. “This contract gives me peace of mind and ensures the future of my family. I had already achieved everything as an amateur, and now I will be able to gain experience as a professional.’’
No doubt, that’s some pretty good experience. And it comes without having to take the typical financial hits that come with it.
Garcia, 42, who turned pro at age 19 and quickly had success, noted that Chacarra’s path to the start of a pro career could be one followed by others – just as Norman had hoped.
“I was fortunate because I had a really good amateur career and I had a couple decent contracts when I came out,’’ said Garcia, who captured his first pro victory at the Irish Open in 1999. “But still, you have to perform every single week, and if you don’t, look what happened to Justin Rose (who missed his first 21 cuts after turning pro). Unbelievable player, obviously, but you get in a slump and you miss 20 cuts and you don’t know what you’re going to do.
“To be able to come out here with good talent and for them to be able to play a little bit more freely and show what they can really do without having to be super intense on if I don’t make the cut this week, what am I going to do and am I going to be able to play the next three weeks or something like that, I think it’s huge.
“LIV Golf has given us that chance, and super proud that we have one of them in our team and already a winner. It’s amazing.’’