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    Grit & Grind: Pueblo Golf Jungolf Star makes it 4-in-a-row

    By Tito Mike

    Pueblo de Oro Golf’s wunderkind Alethea Paige O. Gaccion just did what many junior golfers her age anywhere in the universe most probably haven’t done: win four tournaments in a row!

    In three tournaments she recently competed in: JPGT Vis-Min (Sept 1), JGFP Mimosa Junior Open at Clark (Sept 8) and NGAP Singha Junior & Amateur Qualifiers at Hacienda Luisita (Sept 15-17), Ally (as she is known to family and friends) emerged the winner. For winning the latter, Ally will represent the Philippines in the prestigious Singha Amateur golf tournament and Singha Junior Golf tournament in Thailand after winning both amateur and junior qualifiers for the ladies division.

    Most recently, she topped the Ladies Division of the 3rd National Ranking Game held Sept. 20-23, 2023 at the Changi Golf Club in Singapore with scores of 71-71-72. The National Ranking Games (NRG) for 2023 are organized for SGA National, Development, and Junior Squad members and selected players. It is a counting event for the SGA NRG Order of Merit and the R&A World Amateur Golf Ranking.

    The NRG was played over three rounds of 18 holes each based on stroke play and the player with the lowest gross aggregate for the three rounds was declared the winner, with all ties decided by the countback system.

    Even before this, Ally has seen her World Amateur Golf Ranking (WAGR) soar from 471 to 369 in the past week, and it’s expected to rise even further with this win.

    Ally with Golfing Legend Sir Nick Faldo (right) during the awarding ceremonies of the 14th Faldo Series Asian Grand Finals held April 19-21, 2023 in Vietnam.

    What it takes

    A typical day for most teeners her age would most probably be focused on their studies, social media face time, and of course, their crushes. But even at 16, Ally’s typical day is laser-focused on one goal: being the best junior golfer of her generation.

    The eldest daughter of Lawyer Alfred Lord Tennyson Q. Gaccion IV and Filipinas O. Gaccion, a government employee, she has a younger brother Zacharee Zeus, 8 who has started getting into swimming.

    The fast rising jungolfer practices daily with a routine that would perhaps intimidate even the most veteran of hard core golfers.

    “If I don’t have a big tournament coming up, my routine is more on working with the technicals of my swing,” she said in an online interview with this writer. “At 6:00 AM I head to the golf course, warm up, and play rounds. During my rounds I always keep stats so I will know what I need to improve on my practice.”

    “If I need to work on my regulation shots or my driver, I spend more time on the range and thanks to Tito Gil Velez (Pueblo de Oro Golf & Country Club General Manager) and Tito Prim Nolido (Pueblo de Oro President), I have free access to a lot of range balls in the driving range at Pueblo. If I need to work on my short game and putting, then I double time on the green.”

    With such a daunting daily routine, many parents would be surprised to learn Ally was asthmatic as a child which is why her Dad encouraged her to get into sports. By age six she enjoyed swimming, running and biking as a triathlete, even finishing 3rd in an Alaska Iron Kids event held in Cebu on her first and only try.

    She got into golf by chance when her dad brought her to the Pueblo de Oro Golf and Country Club and let her hit some balls. With the encouragement of her Dad and paternal aunt Gladys G. Opitz, she decided to focus on golf.

    “I would say exercising and playing golf has really helped me with my asthma unlike before. Sometimes I still get asthma, but It’s not that severe compared to when I wasn’t involved with sports,” Ally said.

    With such hard work, discipline and dedication, it wasn’t long before Ally was making waves on the fairways and greens all over the country and abroad.

    “She holds the most number of wins for club championships in the ladies division at Pueblo de Oro Golf and Country Club,” her dad Alfred shared. “She recently won the Lowest Gross Championship at the Del Monte Golf & Country Club ‘s Tee Golf Tournament.”

    Ally has risen to the top of the Junior Golf Foundation of the Philippines (JGFP) 15-18 Girls Division with her most recent notable win as Champion for the 14th Faldo Series Asian Grand Finals Girls16-and Under Division in Vietnam on April 19-21, 2023, which qualified her to play in the European Grand Finals in Dubai on November 19, 2023.  

    The Lourdes Tuason Arroyo Foundation has included Alethea Gaccion (second from left) and Kiara Montebon (second from right) of Cagayan de Oro among its first golf beneficiaries.

    The Faldo Series

    Created in 1996, the Faldo Series aims to create access to the sport for a younger audience through grass-roots initiatives at its tournaments. Annually 5,000 boys and girls aged 12 – 21 have the opportunity to play WAGR events that allow them to test their games around the world. The age category winners at each tournament  receive an invite to join Golf Legend Sir Nick Faldo at one of the Grand Finals in Europe, Asia and North America.

    Sir Nick is also on hand at every Grand Final, imparting his passion, experience and knowledge of the game to competitors. In fact, Ally had the chance to interact with Sir Nick himself when he asked her to demonstrate a chip shot which she aced to his delight.

    Over 45,000 participants have competed since the Faldo Series began. Notable alumni include the 2019 FedEx Cup Champion Rory McIlroy, 2016 Masters champion Danny Willett, former Ladies Scottish Open champion Carly Booth on the Ladies European Tour , and Tour professionals Megan Khang, Joaquín Niemann, Eddie Pepperell and Rashid Khan.

    With A Little Help from Friends

    Ally credits her improved performance to her swing coach Filipino Golfing Great Frankie Miñoza, and her coach Baling Arancon.

    “Before every tournament, I follow a similar routine,” she noted. “On weekends, I go to Del Monte because that is where Tito Frankie is most of the time. Apollo (Rian Batican, a top junior golfer in the 11-12 years category) and I would play rounds and hit balls on the range so Tito Frankie would see what we need to work on.”

    “On the weekdays, I’d practice at Pueblo de Oro (my home  course) with Coach Baling. We would do rounds together so that both of us could practice, because he’s also planning to go back on the Pro Tour. After that, we would go to the practice green and have a little extra time working on my chipping and putting. Not the least, we would go on the range to improve my regulation shots especially,” she adds.

    Home Schooling & Tito Ogan

    Aside from the coaching from her Titos Frankie and Baling, Ally also credits her improved performance on the links to her recent shift to home schooling and the efforts of JGFP President Oliver Gan (himself a former jungolfers) to bring more tournaments to the Visayas and Mindanao.

    Her parents shifted Ally to home schooling after they noted the success of Rianne Malixi, currently the country’s No. 1 amateur, who manages to join more tournaments because she is home schooled.

    “We shifted her to home schooling so she could be more flexible with her time,” Dad Alfred noted. “We need to focus more on golf now to improve her bid to get a golfing scholarship in the United States.”

    Ally admits homeschooling has greatly helped ease the stress of the previous juggling of her time between golf and school.

    “On a real note I really think homeschooling helped me improve with my golf game. It gives me more time to spend with my coaches, and play a lot of tournaments that could help me increase my WAGR ranking,” she said.

    She relates how she previously had to head for golf practice from 5-10AM, go to school to work on her missing tasks till 12nn, then head home to finish her online classes till 5PM.

    Alethea Gaccion and Ralph Rian Batican are honored by Pueblo de Oro after winning the Faldo Series Asian Finals and Asian Junior Masters, respectively.

    “After classes, I then work on my strength and conditioning at our home gym. Sometimes in class my teachers would be upset because I tend to fall asleep because of how tired I was. But I don’t blame them for feeling that way because it’s all my own doing, and I try my best to make everyone proud of me. That’s why I’m doing homeschool so that not only I can make people proud of my game, I could also not leave my academics behind, especially because I want to go college golfing abroad,” she explained.

    Ally also thanks JGFP President Oliver Gan for bringing junior golf to the grass roots in the regions and widen the Philippine jungolfers talent pool.

    “It is also much nicer now because there’s a lot of tournaments in the VisMin leg thanks to Tito Ogan,” she acknowledged. “Before when I was still doing face to face classes my schedule was hectic, especially during my last school year.”

    Not the least, the family acknowledged the assistance extended by the Lourdes Tuason Arroyo (LTA) Foundation of the Arroyo Family headed by Rep. Juan Miguel “Mikey” Arroyo which greatly helped Ally in her golf campaigns in the US and Asia.

    Ally is currently  a member also of the American Junior Golf Association where she has also won some tournaments like the Qualifier for Ping-an Bank Junior Tournament, and placed ninth in the Ping-an Junior Golf Championship held in Beaumont, California. She regularly plays the annual IMG Junior World Championship in San Diego, California.

    Ally exemplifies the work ethic and attitude needed to be a champion,” notes Gil Blas M. Velez, Pueblo de Oro Golf & Country Club General Manager. “She is a constant hard worker, a great competitor, and also a good example of what a junior golfer of Pueblo should be. She always works to improve her game, not only physically but mentally as well, and never backs out of a challenge. I wish her all the best and I know she will go far in her golfing career.”

    “She is also a good teammate, everybody’s friend (especially among junior golfers), and continues to inspire up-and-coming golfers to be like her,” he adds.

    Ally herself admits much remains to be done before she reaches the pinnacle of her game, especially on the mental toughness that makes champions.

    “I would say my greatest asset is my perseverance and my discipline. And my weakness is my focus and concentration, I easily get distracted so I’m working on that now. Most of the time I have a hard time controlling my emotions, like when I get frustrated after a bad shot. Being confident, staying calm, and keeping my composure always helps me, especially with my weaknesses.”

    Watch out now, take care, World! There’s a champion coming soon to the links near you.

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