Mexican waves his past goodbye

Tim Glover talks to an illegal immigrant with a passport to success
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If Javier Sanchez is not the embodiment of the American Dream, then he must come pretty close. For a boy who entered the United States illegally he was doing rather well yesterday, acknowledging the applause of the citizens of Detroit as he negotiated his way around Oakland Hills in the third round of the US Open. Sanchez won't win the tournament, but Disney Studios might be interested in his fairytale.

When Sanchez, who was born in Taistan, Mexico, was 17, his uncle, who lived in Redwood City, California, invited him to stay. "It was a big decision," Sanchez said, "because there are 10 kids in my family and it was kind of hard to break away." He and his uncle went to Tijuana and found a boy who looked like Sanchez. They paid him $50 for his green card. "That is how I got across the border," Sanchez said. "They put me in a hotel room and they drove back to Tijuana to return the green card and they told me not to open the windows or the door. There was a TV. I'd never seen a TV before in my life. I didn't know how to turn the thing on or search for a channel. I sat there for a day before they came back."

He got a job as a dishwasher. "I didn't know how to take the bus so I walked home seven miles every night. It was good. I learned a lot. Then I got a better job and graduated from being a dishwasher to a cook."

The restaurant was attached to the Palo Alto Golf Club. "The owner suggested that I should play golf. I'd never seen a golf course in my life but there was beautiful green grass out there. It looked real nice."

Sanchez bought some clubs and balls for $150. "I went to the driving range but I didn't hit any balls. I just pretended I was a golfer. I was trying to pick up some pointers. I didn't say anything because I couldn't really communicate. Then I started to hit a few balls and I was hitting them up in the air. All of a sudden I was hooked. It was a great, great thing for me to do. Every morning before I went to work I hit balls and after I got home from work I hit balls."

Sanchez moved from the kitchen to the ground staff. "I was cutting the grass and it was a piece of cake because I am used to working very hard and just sitting on a little mower was nice. I was going to seminars and learning about the grass and irrigation and everything and I worked very hard. Then I went to college to learn how to speak English."

Sanchez was invited to play in a golf course superintendents' association pro-am. They said they'd give him an 18 handicap. "What is handicap?" came the reply. "I went to the tournament and I was a nervous wreck." Sanchez shot 77. That's 77 minus 18. He won. They gave him a trophy and a $90 gift certificate. "Guys came up to me and said 'congratulations sandbagger' and I said 'thank you'. Then I asked somebody what sandbagger meant and they said it was somebody who lies about his handicap. Oh my God."

Sanchez moved to Fayetteville, Georgia, when he got a job on a driving range and the owner sponsored him. He won the Palo Alto City Championship. "I had golf balls, I had clubs and all I needed was cash so I turned professional."

Sanchez is 37 and a US citizen. He plays most of his golf on the mini tours. On the Nike Tour this year he has played in just two events and missed the cut in both. No matter. The extraordinary thing about this little Mexican is that he keeps qualifying for the US Open. He played in the last three, missing the cut in all of them and his lowest round was 75. At Oakland Hills, possibly the toughest course on which a major championship has ever been staged, Sanchez shot 71 in the first round, 76 in the second and yesterday, with his wife Cynthia caddying for him, he scored 74. He birdied the 9th and the 12th. Whatever happens over the final round today Javier Sanchez will earn the biggest cheque of his career.