2006: Full circle for Canizares

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1Joey GarberGeorgia  68.65 
2Robby SheltonAlabama  68.65 
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1Alabama 68.97 
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From the time Alejandro Canizares stepped on the Arizona State campus and began his college career in early 2003, many thought it would be no more than a brief stop before a professional career. Those feelings grew even stronger after the talented Spaniard won two tournaments in his eight starts that spring, including the NCAA Championship, and was named a first-team All-American and Division I Freshman of the Year.

It certainly appeared he would join the pro ranks sooner rather than later, and frankly, if the decision had been totally up to Canizares, he might have.

“I’m sure a lot of people thought he would leave school early and turn professional,” Arizona State coach Randy Lein said. “But if you knew his parents, you knew he was going to be here and get his degree.”

Alejandro’s mother, Felicidad, and father, Champions Tour player Jose Maria Canizares, were bound and determined their son would finish what he started.

This month, Alejandro graduates after 31⁄2 years with a 3.9 grade point average and winds down his golf career with the Sun Devils, hopefully by making another big splash at the NCAA Championship.

“Golf has always been the first thing for me,” Canizares said. “But it is rewarding to get my degree. My parents, especially my dad, always stressed that fact. It hasn’t been easy between golf and school, but I’m glad I did it. I feel I’m more mature as a player and a person now.

“My dad has always been a big influence on me. He pushed me to make the decision to come here (United States) and go to school and play college golf. He doesn’t get to see me play a lot, but we talk a great deal. I consult him in just about everything I do. We don’t always agree on some things, but we always talk.”

For Canizares, who plans to turn professional early this summer, it has been a career filled with highs and lows. Even though he has won six titles and has 21 top-10 finishes, he has at times seemed to slip below most people’s radar.

One reason has been a lack of consistency.

Canizares won three tournaments last season, the last coming in February in Puerto Rico. After that, however, he had one top 10 in his last seven starts and twice finished out of the top 30. This season he has had five top-5 finishes but no other finishes between sixth and 15th.

“I know I have to work on staying focused all the time,” Canizares said. “When I’m far from the lead, I kind of lose interest. For me it’s not the same kind of golf when I’m not leading or in the top 5.”

Lein agrees.

“When he’s in the hunt, his focus is a lot sharper,” said the veteran ASU coach. “If he’s having a so-so tournament, he’s still trying, but you can tell he’s not as turned on about it. The thing about Alejandro is he doesn’t make many mental mistakes and he doesn’t hit really bad shots. He’s always in the game, but when he’s in contention, he’s really in the game.”

When he’s in that state, you don’t see a smile on his face, but rather a serious, intense look that led one manufacturing representative to tag him “Mr. Bitter-man.”

The nickname does elicit a grin from Canizares.

“I don’t speak a lot when I play,” he said. “Maybe it’s because I’m a little shy; maybe it’s because I don’t speak the language well. Actually, if you see me smiling (on the course), I’m usually not playing well. When I am playing well, I’m not smiling because I’m so focused on my golf.”

Canizares is hoping he won’t be smiling much this NCAA postseason.

“When I played in my first NCAA, I really didn’t know how big a deal it was,” said Canizares, who shot 1-under 287 to prevail at Karsten Creek in Stillwater, Okla. “After I won it, I realized it was a huge win.”

The victory also raised his expectation level.

“I put a lot of pressure on myself after that,” he said. “I expected more of myself. Maybe I still do. That’s

why these last two tournaments are so important to me.

“I don’t feel I’ve really played as well as I could have overall in my college career. It’s been good, but it could have been better. I really want to play well to finish up and use that as a good start to my pro career.”

Canizares said he probably would play in the British Amateur in June, then represent Europe for the fourth consecutive year in the Palmer Cup, a Ryder Cup-style competition between collegians from America and Europe.

“After that, I’ll just see what happens,” Canizares said. “I’m not sure if I’ll come back and try to play here (professionally) or stay in Europe and try to play there.”

Regardless of when and where he turns pro, it will happen a couple of years later than most people figured.

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