Olivero, 39, holds her own among kids at Copa
Sunday, January 6, 2013
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DORAL, Fla. – At the Copa de las Americas, caddies are allowed. Most of the field used them around Doral’s Blue Monster, but not Maria Olivero. She used a push-cart.
Olivero has the distinction of being the oldest competitior in the field this week. At 39, the stay-at-home mom says she feels a little out of place among the kids. The next oldest players, a trio of men, are 29. The average age for the championship is 20, and Olivero’s other female Argentina teammate, Delfina Acosta, is 17.
“Now all the tournaments are not just for young people, but young players are the best ones,” Olivero said.
It isn’t too long after Olivero explains this that a series of men pass by the scoring tent set up beside the ninth green. When Olivero delivers the good news of her first-round 72 – three birdies, three bogeys – they all grin and nod.
One, dressed in a caddie bib, grabs Olivero’s arm and congratulates her. She should be in contention.
“Even. Muy bien,” says another.
They converse in Spanish before Olivero shoos him away to continue the interview. A few minutes later, when all the scores go up on the board, Argentina leads the U.S. and Colombia by two shots, and Olivero’s score is the second-lowest in the women’s division. She has likely just made an even bigger impression on the rest of the field.
The last time this championship was played, at Olivos Golf Club in suburban Buenos Aires in 2010, Argentina finished second to the U.S. Olivero lives only five hours away, but was on the sidelines then after having son Miguel. Unlike most female mid-amateurs, Olivero revived her game and continues to play for her country, and herself.
“I think that’s the way it is,” Olivero says, lamenting the decline in top female mid-amateurs. “Usually women get married, they stop playing. You have kids, you stop playing. You start working.”
Olivero, however, was playing just more than six months after Miguel’s birth two years ago. He joined older sister Aurora, 8, after whose birth Olivero took a break of similar length. She’s now a stay-at-home mom who keeps her practice to a minimum, going to the course only on Saturdays.
Olivero’s strategy works because she’s not a golf fanatic, and not a player who needs to be on the golf course every single day. She discovered that after one year playing for the University of Kentucky. After that, she returned home to Argentina and has remained extremely competitive on the amateur circuit. She has only missed the national championship twice, when pregnant with each of her children. She has won the Argentine Match Play and Stroke Play nine times each, and is realistic about the strength of her game, given the time she can devote to it.
“I forgive myself mistakes,” she said. “If I miss a shot, I forgive myself because I’m not practicing, so it’s logical. If Tiger misses a shot, I can miss them.”
Another reason Olivero remains competitive is husband Esteban, who could spend every waking hour on the golf course and be just fine. Esteban understands the game, Olivero explains, and likes to see her succeed in the best tournaments. He doesn’t watch her compete.
“The thing is, when you get older you can think better,” she said. “It’s not the same head you had at 18. ... I can take this with no pressure at all so I can enjoy it.”
Next week, her family joins her in the states for a visit to Disney World. Then she’ll take time off, as this trip totals 20 days away from home.
“It’s expensive for us, very expensive,” she says of competing around the world. In 2012, Olivero represented Argentina at the Women’s World Amateur Team Championship for the 11th time in her career. Her country finished second. She teamed with Acosta to win the Copa de las Andes the next month, came in second at the Argentina Open in December, then won the club championship at Palihue Golf Club in Bahia Blanca, Argentina before the new year.
Olivero grins at the success, but shakes her head at the travel. That’s another reason she doesn’t compete frequently in the U.S.: too much time away from her family. She has tried to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Open each of the past two years at The Oaks in Sarasota, Fla., but has failed to advance. Olivero had qualified for the 2001 Open before a 12-year-old Morgan Pressel came in with a round of 70. Olivero lost in the following playoff.
“I always remember Morgan Pressel because of that,” she said. “She was 12 years old, and pushed me out of the U.S. Women’s Open.”
Perhaps this week will be about getting revenge on the kids.