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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

On The Rise

Matias Gil of Argentina Overcomes Loneliness and a Faulty Short Game to Flourish at College of the Canyons

May 05, 2000|FERNANDO DOMINGUEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

VALENCIA — Matias Gil sprung from the hotel bed, showered and dressed quickly, and waited for the rest of the College of the Canyons men's golf team to awake.

He waited . . . and waited . . . and waited.

For two hours Monday morning, the day of the Southern California regional at Rio Bravo Country Club in Bakersfield, Gil was all dressed up with no place to go.

"The alarm clock was two hours ahead of time," Gil said. "I got up at 4 thinking it was 6. I couldn't go back to sleep."

The mix-up hampered Gil in the regional. The normally steady redshirt freshman from Argentina, among the team's top three players, shot 174 (88-86) and his score was not included in the team total.

Canyons finished at 751 and placed second behind defending state champion Long Beach City's 749. The Cougars led Long Beach after the morning round, 374-375.

Gil, a self-described perfectionist, is practicing even harder this week for the eight-team state championships Monday at Glendora Country Club.

"He has unbelievable natural ability," Coach Gary Peterson said of Gil. "But at times, he's so focused that I think he overloads."

Gil, 6 feet 3 and 170 pounds, arrived at Canyons two years ago with a swing capable of launching a ball 290 yards, but with a mediocre short game. That aspect, Peterson said, has improved considerably.

The best round for Gil was a 71 in a Western State Conference match March 6 at Rio Bravo, helping the Cougars (79-3) on the way to a 59-1 conference record.

"I've played pretty well," said Gil, who was selected All-WSC. "For the first time in my life, I've practiced every day."

Gil, 21, took up golf as a youngster in his native Buenos Aires. His parents and two older brothers played and Gil liked the game from the start. He participated in amateur tournaments and became serious about golf.

While in high school in Buenos Aires, a relative in Los Angeles told Gil about Canyons' top-notch program. After talking to Peterson, Gil left home to join the Cougars. He sat out last season before making the roster this year.

"He was like a newly discovered diamond that's not quite polished," Peterson said. "He has done a lot of the polishing himself."

Gil also did a lot of soul searching. He was miserable away from family, friends, his girlfriend and his beloved River Plate, the storied soccer club whose heated games against archrival Boca Juniors are legendary.

He found refuge in golf and the Internet.

"Thanks to e-mail, I was in regular contact with everyone," Gil said. "I got a lot of moral support from them, which was very important. . . . I get an e-mail every day from my dad."

His schoolwork, new friends and golf eased Gil's loneliness. He lives in Granada Hills with teammate Mike Scott and his family, an arrangement enjoyed by everyone.

"He's a really good guy and a lot of fun," Scott said. "He gets along pretty well with my friends and blends in pretty well."

Gil wants Scott to blend with his friends and is trying to talk him into visiting Argentina in the summer, which is winter in the Southern Hemisphere. Gil wants to show Scott his favorite hangouts, including the New York City, among the city's most popular nightclubs.

"I miss the clubs," Gil said. "I like to dance and have a good time."

When Gil returns to the United States in the fall, it probably will be to another school. He hopes to line up a scholarship to a four-year school to play golf and study marketing, with his sights on becoming an accountant, like his father. His mother is a dentist.

And he wouldn't mind a chance at pro golf, but he's not banking on it.

"I'm not satisfied with what I have accomplished in golf," Gil said. "I want to go a lot farther. But if golf is not what I end up doing for a living, I'll have a university degree and golf will be secondary in my life."

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