Tabuena’s Summer Adventure Just Beginning

Miguel Tabuena has a busy summer, with his start at Oakmont followed by the Olympics in August. (USGA/Joel Kowsky)
Miguel Tabuena has a busy summer, with his start at Oakmont followed by the Olympics in August. (USGA/Joel Kowsky)

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OAKMONT, Pa. – It will be a long time before Miguel Tabuena forgets this summer.

Not only is the 21-year-old Filipino set to represent his country in the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in two months, he is also playing in the U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club, his first major championship.

Tabuena got pictures with Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy early in the week, along with a few words of advice, but it was down to business in the weather-delayed first round. And Tabuena acquitted himself quite nicely, shooting a 4-over-par 74 that matched Mickelson and was three shots better than McIlroy.

“I’m just trying to enjoy the experience,” Tabuena said after his round. “This is my first major. I think I did pretty well, just had a few bad decisions. But it’s all part of the process, and I’ll become a better golfer.”

Tabuena didn’t have a great day on Oakmont’s greens, requiring 33 putts, and he made a double bogey on the par-4 second hole when he needed two shots to get out of a greenside bunker.

“Just a couple of little mistakes,” said Tabuena’s caddie, Chris Trumble, who has worked at Oakmont since 1980. “We got a little aggressive on No. 2, but that was the only big problem we had. Take that away, and we’re only 2 over. It’s tough out there. I think he’s got a good game.”

Like many others who have seen Tabuena compete since he turned pro at age 17, Trumble is impressed with Tabuena’s composure and skill. Tabuena is only 5-foot-5 and 145 pounds but has eight career victories on the Philippine Golf Tour.

“He’s a very cool customer,” Trumble said. “This didn’t seem to faze him at all. I think I was more nervous than he was. And he can hit it – lots of power in there.”

Says Tabuena, who didn’t top 5 feet and 120 pounds when he started playing professionally: “I know what my strengths are and play to my strengths.”

After a lean season on the Asian Tour in 2013 following two more consistent campaigns, Tabuena has improved the last couple of years. He was 37th on the Asian Tour money list in 2014 and 23rd in 2015, when he won his first Asian Tour title – the Philippine Open. He has climbed to third in earnings in 2016. Earlier this year, Tabuena tied for second at the Maybank Championship Malaysia on the PGA European Tour.

Tabuena is following in the footsteps of countrymen Ben Arda and Frankie Minoza, who starred in Asia in prior decades. Arda and Minoza never played regularly on the PGA Tour, but there is no doubt about Tabuena’s goal.

“Everyone wants to be here,” said Tabuena, who was medalist in U.S. Open sectional qualifying at Lake Merced Golf Club and The Olympic Club. “It’s a dream for every golfer to compete with the best on the PGA Tour.”

Currently ranked 38th on the Olympic qualifying list for the 60-man field, Tabuena is eager to compete in Brazil.

“I am looking forward to the Olympics,” he said. “I didn’t ever imagine calling myself an Olympian, and I get to do that this year.”

It will be another step in the maturation of a talented young player – he is No. 127 in the Official World Golf Ranking – who is proud to represent his country.

“It’s a bit of extra pressure, but it comes with being in this situation,” Tabuena said. “I am the top-ranked Filipino now, and I just have to learn how to play with it, learn how to enjoy it when I am out there.”

Bill Fields is a Connecticut-based freelance writer who contributes frequently to USGA websites.