When Julian Perico was 15 years old, he played an FCWT junior event at Mission Inn Resort in Howey-in-the-Hills, Fla. and shot 78-79. Zach Parker, senior coach at nearby Bishops Gate Golf Academy, came out to watch Perico, who had been training at the academy, but didn’t stay long as the young Peruvian grew frustrated with his play.
“He asked me why I left,” Parker said, “and I told him, ‘I left because of your attitude and because you didn’t seem to be enjoying it.'”
Three years later and Perico, now 18, is loving every minute of his golf journey, which has taken him from his native Peru, a country with almost no golf history, to Florida’s rural Lake County, where Perico has developed into one of the top juniors in the U.S. while earning a golf scholarship to Arkansas.
“It’s been a dream come true really,” Perico said. “I’ve been very blessed.”
Perico left his home in Lima two years ago to attend Bishops Gate full-time. Parker has been Perico’s instructor since Day 1, not only cultivating the technical aspects of Perico’s game but also teaching the teenager to tap into what is now his biggest asset.
“The one thing that you can’t take away from Julian is his love for game,” Parker said. “… His energy and attitude are infectious.”
In January 2017, just months after arriving at Bishops Gate, Perico traveled to Panama to play in his first Latin America Amateur. The youngest player in the field at 17 years old, Perico broke the championship scoring record in the first round. A nervous Perico then dialed Parker.
“He said, ‘I’ve just been in hours of interviews and now everyone from Augusta National is going to watch me tomorrow; what am I gonna do?'” Parker said. “I told him to do what made him special and be himself.”
Perico finished fourth that week, a shot out of a playoff. But he gained the belief that he could not only beat the best, but he could be the best.
Chile’s Joaquin Niemann, who lost in that LAAC playoff, has been Perico’s friend for four years. Niemann, 19, rose to No. 1 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking last year and in January captured the LAAC to earn a Masters invite this April. Niemann recently challenged Perico.
“He told me, ‘Just try to keep up with me,’ pretty much,” Perico said. “… ‘Just defend my titles.'”
Perico has been up to the task. He followed Niemann by winning titles at the South American Junior and IMG Academy Junior World Championships last year. He also won two pro events in Peru. And last month Perico recorded his first AJGA invitational victory – something Niemann never accomplished – by winning the Simplify Boys Invitational. The victory moved him to sixth in the Golfweek/Sagarin Junior Rankings.
“In these two years he’s gone from hardly ranked at all to being inside the top 10,” Parker said. “It hasn’t been all roses; there’s been a lot of ups and downs, moments where he felt like he was improving at a dramatic rate and then all of a sudden he felt like plateaued. … He actually felt like those hard times were callousing his mind and only fueling his passion to get better.”
Said Perico: “I’m not satisfied, you know? … I want to be the best golfer ever in my country. That’s what I’m striving for.”
Peru has never had a native golfer earn a PGA Tour card. No Peruvians currently own any Official World Golf Ranking points. Perico is ranked No. 199 in WAGR; Luis Barco, at No. 147, is the only other Peru amateur ranked better than No. 1,469.
All that is why Perico carries his country’s flag with pride. He doesn’t just want to win; he wants to inspire.
“It’s the reason why he doesn’t ever stop giving 100 percent, because he’s doing it for a bigger cause than just himself,” Parker said.
Parker admires that when Perico finds something he likes, he sticks to it, even if it is unconventional or unpopular. That explains why Perico picked up golf as a kid growing up in Lima, which has just three golf courses. It explains why he changed his driver and putter on the eve of the Simplify Boys. It explains why he plans to stay at Arkansas all four years.
“I want to have a diploma with my name on it,” Perico said.
No wonder many of Perico’s peers are drawn to the affable Peruvian.
After his Simplify win, Perico was showered with water bottles and congratulated by several competitors and friends. Deservedly so.
“Julian is an amazing guy with a great attitude, not only in golf but in life, as well,” Alabama commit Canon Claycomb said. “… To have a friend, you must first be a friend, and Julian has taught me how to do that.”
Said Parker: “He understands how important the people that you associate with are to your growth and development. And these guys that he’s learning from? They’re learning so much from him, too.
“He just has the biggest heart and he loves what he does, and to be honest with you, he loves people and that’s what I think makes him truly special.”
Now, it’s hard for Parker not to watch every shot that Perico hits. The kid is just having so much fun. Gwk