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Role Model

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Santa Ana’s Montoya is living his dream as a PGA pro

SANTA ANA PUEBLO – New Mexico’s latest trailblazing golfer is a rather pleasant 26-year-old man with an inviting smile and hearty love for his work.

It is within Jason Montoya’s heritage that you find the link to a first among American golf.

“Jason,” said Roger Martinez, the director of golf for the Santa Ana Pueblo, “is one of the kids that took the seeds. It got watered, and it produced fruit.”

When Montoya, a 2004 Bernalillo High School graduate, earned his PGA status in March, he earned the following distinction:

He became the first Pueblo-raised, Native American PGA professional in the country.

“To be the first tribal member,” Montoya said with a wide smile, “is a great honor.”

Yes, there are PGA Tour pros such as New Mexico’s Notah Begay III – who was a guide during Montoya’s journey – but Montoya’s title, as a PGA assistant golf pro, puts him on a list of one. This, according to the pueblo and the two golf courses there, Twin Warriors and Santa Ana.

A former baseball player as a youth, Montoya’s golf status, in a general way, has a parallel in baseball. Often it is the journeyman who proves to be the most efficient baseball manager; Montoya didn’t pick up a golf club until he was 11, and in high school never even qualified for a state tournament.

But after leaving Bernalillo, he entered UNLV’s golf management program. UNLV is one of a small handful of schools that offer it. New Mexico State is another.

After going through the five-year program, Montoya, who began working at Twin Warriors as an assistant in August, became a certified PGA pro.

And, his boss says, he has aspirations that go even higher.

“He’s always asking questions. He wants to be involved in all facets of the business,” said Twin Warriors head pro Derek Gutierrez – whose own success story is very similar to Montoya’s, as Gutierrez was a former prep athlete at Menaul who veered into the golf business. “He’ll make a great head pro down the road.”

Montoya’s start in the sport was modest.

As a kid on the Santa Ana Pueblo, he participated in village-oriented sports programs that offered basics like kickball, baseball and basketball. His dad played baseball, and that seemed to be the sport for him.

But one of the other activities in that program was a week’s worth of golf. At that time, in the mid- to late 1990s, Santa Ana Pueblo was trying to recruit kids to play golf, especially with two fantastic facilities on the property.

Holding a baseball bat, Montoya said, made holding a golf club feel “like second nature, hitting the ball as hard as I could.”

Aside from his first swing, in which the club comically flew out of his hands, he quickly learned to love the game. Martinez said Montoya would spend hours every day at Santa Ana Golf Club, where he had taken junior clinics, picking up what he could.

Although he was not a prominent high school player, Montoya took solace in the epiphany he had while at Bernalillo – where he didn’t play a competitive round until the eighth grade.

“I set the goal in high school that I wanted to get PGA status,” he said. “Just be involved in the game of golf.”

The UNLV program has afforded him chances to perform various internships. He’s worked at Las Campanas outside Santa Fe, along with Twin Warriors and Santa Ana. He spent six months at the Turning Stone Resort in New York, and also took half a year to give golf lessons to juniors in Begay’s foundation.

“He was one of my role models,” Montoya said of Begay. “Living (his) dream motivated me to get out and do my part.”

“He’s got a great résumé,” Martinez said of Montoya.

And, as Montoya said, he’s been able to learn the business, slowly, gradually.

“Talking with Roger and Derek and (others), I knew I wanted to put everything I had into this,” Montoya said. “Golf is a business for life, just like the game of golf.”

From his modest beginnings in junior golf, one of Montoya’s great pleasures now is to give golf lessons to juniors, which takes up a decent chunk of his workweek.

Montoya’s face consistently lights up when he speaks of redirecting his knowledge and giving back to kids who were not too dissimilar from him all those years ago.

“For me, the joy of teaching is that one great shot they hit,” he said. “The excitement they get out of it. It reminds me of when I was a kid.”

Montoya, who still lives on the Santa Ana Pueblo, understands what this all means in the bigger picture.

“I never pictured myself as a role model,” he said. “But it’s neat.”
— This article appeared on page C1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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