Cover photo by Phyllis Lerner
SCOTTSDALE, AZ – Consistency might as well be Esteban Toledo’s middle name. He has been one of the Top 30 golfers to make the Charles Schwab Cup Championship in all three years since joining the Champions Tour as a full-time player, a mark of solid play throughout each season.
He came into this year’s tournament 7th in Schwab Cup points, with one win (Nature Valley First Tee Open at Pebble Beach) and 5 Top 10 finishes (two in Champions Tour Majors). And although a T24 tournament finish dropped him into 8th place, out of Schwab Cup money (only the top 5 in points share in the $2.1 million annuity), he finished the season with well over a million dollars in earnings. He has earned nearly as much in just three years on the Champions Tour as he did in his 20-year journeyman PGA career.
When we last saw him putt out last year at the 2014 Charles Schwab Cup Championship (T-14, 2-under), he and his son Nicholas were leaving immediately for Mexicali, where work was to begin on constructing an orphanage in Esteban’s home town.
The original 1,500 foot plan was expanded to 5,500 square feet, and is now a facility that is nearly ready to welcome 30 boys and girls, ages 6-18. Construction is completed, and all that remains is to buy furniture and appliances, and welcome the kids.
Toledo is visibly excited about finally seeing his long-time dream realized.
“To give something to children is the most important thing in life,” he said. “It’ll all be done by the end of December and it’s going to be a grand celebration!”
The facility is designed to feel more like a family home instead of an institution. Medical and dental care will be provided, and education emphasized.
Toledo has never left his roots behind. Harsh childhood poverty (as one of 11 children), a stint as a professional boxer, and his subsequent, improbable path to professional golf left him with a deep desire to help others, especially children.
“Look, I was born in worse circumstances than many kids,” he explains. “I was raised in an adobe house, where we didn’t really have places to sleep, we had just two beds, and we lived in a very, very bad situation. But with a huge difference – I had a mother and a father.”
“And I think the most important thing is to give these children, these orphans, the love they need. It is important that they know that I love them, we are going to take care of them, and we’re going to teach them, so that their future will be brighter and they’ll be able to succeed in life.”
Helping with the project as much as possible is Toledo’s son Nicholas who, with girlfriend Nicole, is in the Chemistry Ph.D. program at Rice. As they did last year, the couple took a break from school to watch Toledo play the season-ending tournament.
Nicholas spoke proudly about his father’s commitment to charity and said he hopes to follow his footsteps and be a similar kind of role model. He is already involved with the foundation (www.estebantoledofamilyfoundation.org), working with sponsors and donors, while keeping up with his graduate research studies.
Of his son and 16-year old daughter, Toledo says, “I want to be a good example for them, showing them how to deal with people and to be a good human being, not just make money.”
The 5-foot-9 golfer, who actually towers over fellow competitor Ian Woosnam, is personable, popular and laughs easily. Stories abound about him on Tour, some humorous and some heartwarming. Overheard at the driving range, for example, was a fan recounting how the budget-conscious Toledo gleefully shared that he bought his Mizuno irons on EBay for $300, and has won over two million dollar with them.
More common, however, are the stories that show his heart. Phoenix fan Eduardo Lamadrid, for example, connected with Toledo through a mutual friend in Mexicali. Eduardo’s two girls Natalia Olivia (8) and Alexis (7) play competitive golf, and Eduardo hoped they might have a chance to meet the professional golfer.
Not only did Toledo call him personally and invite the family to the Pro Am but, according to Eduardo, “He was super nice, he’s just a great human being. It was like we’d known each other for years, because he made us feel like family. My girls felt very loved.”
It’s an important part of the job for Toledo.
“You know, when there’s a fan, I try to give them everything I can. I try to be a good person and show them a good professional. I hope the girls learn to play golf, and that they learn how to handle themselves as people. This will be a memory for them.”
The girls, already winners on the junior circuit, even got to hit Toledo’s driver a couple times, leaving the pro impressed.
“I believe that if they want to get to the LPGA, they could. If they follow their goals and their dreams, I think they’ll make it.”
High praise, indeed, and it’s nice to know they’ll have a little extra encouragement along the way.
What might surprise some is Toledo’s support of Donald Trump, particularly his views on immigration. Toledo, who became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1984, is adamant about following the rules. And while not a fan of the Republican frontrunner’s choice of words, he likes the ideas.
“In some part I’m in agreement with him. I came to this country legally, I did it the correct way, I got a green card, and when my visa expired, I went back to my country. All I know is that we need to come here legally, and remain here legally, no matter from what country.”
The Mexicali native is fortunate to have two countries he calls home, and is in the process of establishing a Mexican-based foundation that will enable him to expand the donor base to raise funds in that country. Meanwhile, plans are also underway to expand the scope of the Esteban Toledo Family Foundation in the U.S., with projects to benefit junior golf, the Red Cross, and other non-profits.
It’s been a long 23-tournament season that will be followed by another extraordinarily busy off season, but Esteban Toledo is ready to continue “arriba y adelante!”
SOME PAR-TING THOUGHTS ON THE CHARLES SCHWAB CUP CHAMPIOSHIP
- Yes, Desert Mountain/Cochise Course really is as scenic as it looks on tv. Course designer Jack Nicklaus (who designed all six Desert Mountain course) was not just patting himself on the back when he described it as “one of the most picturesque golf courses in the world.” With the Sonoran Mountains as a backdrop, and lush, emerald fairways contrasting with the adjacent desert, it truly is breathtaking, comparable (in this writer’s opinion) to Ritz Carlton Dove Mountain (more on that in a future post).
- Food was high on the media agenda. Thanks to a recommendation from Phil Mickelson’s caddy Jim “Bones” Macay, the visiting press discovered local favorite Barrio Café in Phoenix, made famous by Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza, a four-time James Beard award nominee. Gary McCord, former Charles Schwab Cup Champion, was spotted dining at North Scottsdale’s Spiga Cucina Italiana, a recent addition to the local culinary scene.
- No carts permitted at this Championship, and Cochise is a tough course to walk. Breezy conditions and gusty winds the final two days made it even more difficult. Third day scoring average of 70.765 was the highest in the three years the tournament has been held at Cochise.
- Majority of fan jersey sightings – Seahawks. Best apparel (and there weren’t many as it was a collared shirt kind of crowd) – a teenage boy wearing a shirt that read “I (heart) cartgirls.”
- Security was, well, more than perfunctory, but less than stringent. Everyone was “wanded,” but nobody was asked to put their Rolex in a tray before passing through. As always, the atmosphere could best be described as “genteel.”
- These guys are still long. It was especially fun watching the tee shots at the 14th hole, a 450-yard par 4, where five players hit 350+ yard tee shots. Kevin Sutherland won long drive, with 366 yards.