Share “U.S. Senior Open: Looking for someone to...”

U.S. Senior Open: Looking for someone to root for? Esteban Toledo is your guy

No player has come further or overcome more. No player appreciates — genuinely appreciates — where he is any more than Toledo.
by Jenni Carlson Published: July 7, 2014

EDMOND — The man in the faded red shirt seemed to appear out of nowhere behind the service building near the Oak Tree National clubhouse.

“Mexicali!” he hollered.

Esteban Toledo smiled at the mention of his hometown in Mexico as the man continued in rapid-fire Spanish. He told Toledo that he’d seen him playing golf on TV. He told Toledo how proud he was of him.

Toledo looked like he would’ve stood there and talked to man for hours Monday morning but for the practice round that he needed to finish.

“Those are my Latino people, and I want to make sure I talk to them,” Toledo said, then quickly added, “but not just them. That’s the way golf should be. Golfers should be talking to people. They should be nice to people behind the ropes.”

When the U.S. Senior Open tees off Thursday, there will be no shortage of players to cheer. There are locals like Scott Verplank and Bob Tway. There are famous faces like Bernhard Langer and Colin Montgomerie. But if you’re still looking for someone to cheer, Esteban Toledo is your guy.

No player has come further or overcome more.

No player appreciates — genuinely appreciates — where he is any more than Toledo.

“I didn’t grow up with nothing,” he said, “and all of a sudden, I’m playing golf.”

All of a sudden? That isn’t entirely true, but the bit about not having anything as a kid is spot on.

Toledo grew up in one of the barrios in Mexicali, a border town two hours east of San Diego. His family lived in a tiny shack just off a busy highway. Nine people. Three beds.

The shack had dirt floors and no plumbing.

To make extra money, Toledo would go to the golf course in Mexicali, fish golf balls out of the river next to the fifth hole and sell them back to the members.

One day, he even found a discarded 7-iron on the course. He tried it out but wasn’t much good.

No matter. He was going to be a boxer.

Because he was small, he was often a target of bullies in his rough-and-tumble neighborhood. That prompted him to follow one of his brothers to a local boxing gym. He was looking for a way to survive the neighborhood, but instead, boxing became a way for him to escape it.

Toledo turned pro as a teenager and fought bouts in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. He amassed a 16-1 record. He seemed to be on his way. Who knows where he was heading, but it was a road out.

But then, complications from an appendectomy ended his boxing career. It was devastating.

Toledo landed in a familiar locale, taking a job on the driving range at the golf course. Once the members finished playing for the day, he would sneak onto the course and try his hand at the game. Slowly but surely, he improved his game and embraced the sport.

Continue reading this story on the...