ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The move hasn’t been without its trials for Lobo golfer Victor Perez.
Coming to Albuquerque from his hometown of Semeac, France, meant immersing himself in a different culture and speaking a foreign language. It meant leaving behind his country’s famed cuisine and easy access to the ocean.
Oh, how he misses the ocean.
Mountain West Men’s Golf Championships at OMNI Tucson National in Tucson
But Perez is a big-picture guy. He can live without patisseries and beaches for four years because UNM, he said, leads him closer to his goals.
“I want to go to med school, and if you do med school back home … it’s really challenging – there’s about 2,000 people for 100 spots. It’s doable, but it’s a lot, a lot of work,” Perez said between swings earlier this week at the Sandia Golf Club driving range. “Coming here and getting my degree in biology and minor in economics, it’s going to be easier, and I can still play golf. Depending on how I play golf during these four years, I’ll either try to turn pro or go to med school.”
So far the golf part is coming along even better than expected.
Perez quickly landed a spot in the Lobos’ lineup and is among three freshmen competing for 16th-ranked UNM at this weekend’s Mountain West Championships in Tucson.
Perez – who has eight top-20 finishes in 12 tournaments this year – claimed the individual title at the Lobos’ last event, the Aggie Invitational in Bryan, Texas. He was the only player to finish under par in a field that featured eight of the country’s top 50 collegiate players as ranked by Golfweek.com
“It was a really nice win for him,” Lobos coach Glen Millican said. “It was a tough course and a good field, and he played great.”
It’s been a remarkable ride for a player who expected to see action in only a few tournaments.
“All of the sudden, I play well in the first qualifier, and it works well for me,” Perez said. “I’ve got a bunch of good tournaments, and I’m on a good stretch right now. It’s good to be on this stretch going into conference and regionals.”
Clearly comfortable on the links, Perez has eased into New Mexico life, too. He’s been embraced by his Lobo teammates – including fellow international player, freshman Gavin Green of Malaysia – and he now speaks English with ease. Perez even got a dose of the ocean when New Mexico played a February tournament in Hawaii.
Adapting to the food, though?
“Coming from France and being used to having great food all the time, it’s different I would say. I wouldn’t say it’s bad (here). I think I had to get used to it. It was kind of a big change,” said Perez, adding that he has yet to test Albuquerque’s French restaurants. “(But) we go to Frontier, obviously, which is a great place to go.”
Perez and Green are the first international players the Lobos have signed as freshmen in several years, Millican said. They, along with freshman Sean Romero of Texas, have made an immediate impact for New Mexico, which is enjoying perhaps its most consistent season in Millican’s 11-year tenure. New Mexico has placed in the top five at all but one tournament.
“These freshmen came in and started playing well right away. They’ve really earned their spots and done a good job on the road,” Millican said. “Don’t really care how old they are; we just care how they’re playing.”
The freshman trio joins juniors James Erkenbeck and John Catlin in the lineup this weekend as the Lobos chase their first Mountain West title since winning four straight from 2003-06.
With a berth in the NCAA Regionals already assured, Erkenbeck said the Lobos are taking a no-pressure approach into the Mountain West tournament, where the field includes UNLV (No. 14 in Golfweek.com rankings) and No. 15 San Diego State.
“If we don’t win, it’s not a failure,” Erkenbeck said. “But that’s what we’re trying to do.”
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal