[PHOTO: Jonathan Ferrey/LIV Golf]
In an alternative world, Eugenio Lopez-Chacarra would have been spending the weekend cheering on the Oklahoma State football team to victory over Texas Tech from the stands of Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Oklahoma. But during the northern summer, the 22-year-old Spaniard made a bet on himself. Rather than play out his senior college season and continue to build on a budding amateur golf résumé that saw him rise to No.2 in the world, Lopez-Chacarra signed with LIV Golf.
Five tournaments into his pro career, the bet paid off.
Holding a five-shot lead entering the final round of the LIV Golf Invitational Bangkok, Lopez-Chacarra didn’t let the magnitude of a $US4 million ($A6.3 million) first-place payday unnerve him. He returned to Thailand’s Stonehill Golf Club and overcame two early bogeys – his only two of the tournament – by making three birdies during a rain-delayed back nine, shooting a closing three-under 69 for a 19-under total, beating Patrick Reed by three and Paul Casey, Richard Bland and Sihwan Kim by four.
“Feels great,” Lopez-Chacarra said after the final round. “I mean, I don’t think there’s a lot of secret. Just trusting yourself and working hard every day. That’s what they teach me when I was young and what these guys tell me you need to do, and trusting your team, having a good team and just work and work, I would say.”
Lopez-Chacarra had planned to return to Oklahoma shortly after losing the NCAA individual title in a playoff last May. But the opportunity to have guaranteed pro starts was too much to pass up in making his decision to leave college early. Additionally, he was going to have the chance to play on the same LIV team as his golf idol growing up, fellow Spaniard Sergio Garcia. On Saturday, ahead of the final round, Lopez-Chacarra spoke about the influence that playing and practising with Garcia has had on his development during the past three-plus months.
“I mean, I’m still dreaming,” Chacarra said. “I feel like it was yesterday when I went to Madrid to watch the  Spanish Open and watch [Garcia] play golf and just seeing him as an idol. He’s a Spanish idol for a long time. He’s been on tour 23 years, so I’m just trying to learn as much as I can from him, and I think I’m in a good spot.”
Still, Lopez-Chacarra’s best previous LIV finish was just a T-21 in Chicago last month as he was adjusting to the travel and new environment. His collective individual earnings in his first four starts were only roughly $US650,000. But something clicked in Thailand, as he opened with bogey-free rounds of 65 and 63, the confidence he exuded in college having returned.
While disappointed by the early bogeys that let others back into the competition, Lopez-Chacarra never lost his lead outright, seeing it shrink to one on two occassions. When rain forced play to stop for a little more than 90 minutes while Lopez-Chacarra was playing the 15th hole, the reset calmed him. He returned to strike a nifty chip from behind the green to set up a tap-in par that kept him two in front and then birdied the par-5 17th to give him his eventual three-shot margin of victory.
With his mother and aunt having made the trip to Thailand, along with his longtime coach, the celebration of his first pro win took on special meaning.
“It’s great. What LIV Golf is doing for golf and for everyone is something that I couldn’t react and I couldn’t be more proud to be here,” Lopez-Chacarra said. “I’m learning a lot. I’m playing with the best players in the world, and that’s what I’ve wanted to do since I was little and I’m learning from each of them in particular these guys by my side. They’re trying to help me as much as I can and I’m always there learning, and it’s been a dream, and I can’t be more excited for the next years to come.”