September 25, 2017

Pages: Gio Gandionco’s dream: ‘Be like Rory’

By John Pages

TIGER Woods is outdated and passé. Today’s young golfers want to be like the 22-year-old Irish champion of the United States Open.

Take the son of Opep and Cora Gandionco. Only 16 years old, he possesses the confidence and maturity of Rory McIlroy.

Angelo Jose “Gio” Gandionco explained: “Rory inspired me to do better and to challenge myself; if Rory can do it, why can’t I? It may be tough to be the best or even get in the PGA Tour but if you have the will and desire, you can achieve it. Rory winning made me realize that it’s possible to win one of the biggest tournaments and beat the best. Like now, I’m touring America playing tournaments and I’m up against the best juniors. I know if I play my game I can beat them like Rory. If I focus on what I’m supposed to do and not get intimidated, I can win.”

Spunk, spirit, and self-assurance.

That’s Gio.

From the U.S., he e-mailed last week. “I just finished my first tournament this second trip here,” said Gio. “It’s the AJGA (American Junior Golf Association) Club Corp Mission Hills Desert Junior in Rancho Mirage (Palm Springs), California. Despite jet lag since I just arrived three days earlier and playing in 114-degree weather, I finished second with a score of 71-73-72, which is my best finish so far here. Most of the other players were from California. LJ Go (from Cebu) also played.”

Gio, a 2-handicapper who also idolizes Rickie Fowler (“He stands out with his fashion statement”), travels next to Pinehurst, North Carolina and Huntsville, Alabama. He then returns home to Cebu, where he is a fourth year high school student at Paref-Springdale (and a five-time Student Athlete Of The Year).

“Last April,” he added, “my mom’s family had a reunion in Hawaii so we went on to Texas to join a tournament at the Texas A&M University. I finished 14th (that was a highly-ranked junior event) and, at the PGA Golf Club in Florida, I finished in the top 10. Here in the U.S., there are 5,000 junior golf players… so I think I have been doing well.”

Gio started golf at the age of four. He used Little Tikes plastic golf clubs and his dad, Opep, who heads the family-owned giant Julie’s Bakeshop, was the person who taught his son how to swing.

By age 7, Gio joined golf events. But, he also had a similar interest in the Azkals game of football. He was Springdale’s striker. Finally, he had to choose. “When my soccer tournaments and golf coach’s schedules competed for my time,” he said, “I knew I had to make a choice. Although I enjoyed the team play in soccer with my friends, I knew it was golf I really loved! So at 11, I started to seriously work on my game.”

Mixing academics and sport has not been easy. “My schedule is very hectic,” said Gio, an honor student who consistently averages 90+. “But, I always try to put time for both practicing and studying. During schooldays, I get dismissed 4:30pm so I head to either the range or the golf course on MWF. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I work out in the gym. I get home 6:30pm, study, eat, sleep. It is not easy being a student-athlete; you have to learn how to manage your time well. Even while I’m away for a tournament, I still have to read books and do homework to prepare for tests.”

Gio’s dream? To play in the PGA Tour. But first, he says, “My goal in the medium term is to get a scholarship at a prestigious U.S. university. I would like to play college golf, at the same time graduate with a degree in Business.”

His best score? A 5-under par in a Men’s Amateur tournament late last year. “Although I am still working on my game,” he says, “my short game has always been my strength.

Every aspect of my game is still a work-in-progress, and I am open to learning and improving.”

As to the aspects of golf that he enjoys most, he answers, “I love every part of the game: the pressure, the challenge, the intimidation, the hard work, the difficulties that come everyday and, most of all, the feeling of knowing you’re improving.”

Only 16, Gio sounds like a very, very mature person.

Just like Rory.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu on July 7, 2011.

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