In a lot of ways, Andrew Vijarro is just like any other college freshman.
The 2008 Bend High School graduate has spent the last year getting acquainted with the rigors of university-level classes while adjusting to his newfound independence.
But he has also enjoyed a heck of a ride in his first year on the University of Oregon golf team.
Vijarro started the school year last fall clawing for playing time. And he ended the season less than two weeks ago as a starter for the youngest team — starting four freshmen and one sophomore — at the NCAA Division I National Championships.
“It was exciting, it was fun,” says Vijarro, who helped propel the Ducks to a 22nd-place finish among 30 teams in the National Championships at Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio. “We were the youngest team in America and we won two tournaments, had three second places, and made it to nationals.
“We didn’t play as good as we should have at nationals, but for being so young, it was a great experience. The guys were all learning, and we started four freshmen and a sophomore. Preseason next year, we should probably be ranked top 20 and maybe even better than that. It’s exciting, because this is what we came here to do.”
Vijarro played in 11 of 14 tournaments for the Ducks this season, tied for fourth-most on the team, and averaged a respectable 74.15 strokes per round.
The 19-year-old was part of a UO freshman class that was ranked No. 1 in the nation by Golfstat.com, a Web site that keeps the most complete statistics on college golf.
In some respects, Vijarro was the team’s biggest surprise. The other three of the close-knit freshmen — Daniel Miernicki from Southern California; Robbie Ziegler, of Canby; and Eugene Wong, of North Vancouver, British Columbia — were all heavily recruited by UO and others.
Not so with Vijarro, who grew up in a supportive middle-class family in Bend but had received little formal golf training before heading to Eugene.
Though he enjoyed great success during his last two seasons of high school and amateur golf, he is a self-described “late bloomer,” who hadn’t really played competitive golf until he moved from Washington to Bend as a 12-year-old and played in the Central Oregon Junior Golf Association.
“He really recruited himself here,” says Casey Martin, UO’s men’s golf coach and a former PGA Tour pro. “He said: ‘Look coach, I really want to be part of what you are doing, and I want to come play for you.’ That really made an impact on me in the recruiting process. And since he has been here, he has done nothing but just been a total gem as far as a person and his attitude.
“I really feel like I won the lottery getting a guy like Andrew.”
Vijarro’s confidence and intensity — and humility — have made an impression on the UO program, the coach says.
Martin, a Eugene native who is best known for successfully taking on the PGA Tour for his right to use a golf cart in competition — a necessity for Martin to play because of his degenerative leg disease — knows passion when he sees it.
It was Martin’s own drive that forced the issue with the PGA Tour. And he enjoyed enormous success as a collegiate golfer at Stanford in the early 1990s, when he won a national title and played alongside perhaps the most competitive of all athletes, Tiger Woods.
Martin sees a similar drive in Vijarro, and says that the former Bend High standout has shown the ability to become the team’s leader in years to come.
“The thing I love about Andrew is that Andrew has an awesome, awesome attitude,” says Martin. “He loves being on the team. He loves to compete. He’s one of the most competitive guys that I have ever been around. He brings out the best in the rest of my guys on my team.”
It might be Vijarro’s play this spring that has Martin the most excited.
In March, Vijarro placed fourth individually in the Western Intercollegiate at Pasatiempo Golf Club in Santa Cruz, Calif., to help Oregon win that tournament.
And in April, against an elite field at Stanford’s U.S. Intercollegiate, he finished 54 holes at 1 under par, good enough for a tie for 21st place in a field of 87 players.
“It maybe surprised the coach,” Vijarro says of his performance as a freshman. “I kind of knew coming in that I could play with these guys. I think it may have surprised the coach because as a junior (golfer), I didn’t bloom until I was probably 16 or 17. Some of the guys on the team were really good since they were like 10 years old.”
Vijarro’s education, both athletically and academically, has just begun.
He says he has been amazed by the commitment required to be a student-athlete, noting that he often would leave his dorm room at about 6 a.m. for morning workouts and not return until 10 p.m. after a tutoring session.
And that doesn’t even account for time spent traveling to tournaments all around the country.
“The biggest adjustment — you have zero time,” Vijarro says before joking: “And now that we’re done, heck, I’m in my room right now, and I don’t even now what I am doing with my life.”
The demands on Vijarro’s time won’t get much lighter this summer.
After final exams this week, Vijarro will take on a full summer of amateur tournaments. He plans to play in the Mirror Pond Invitational at Bend Golf and Country Club, June 20-21, as well as in the 100th Oregon Amateur and the Pacific Northwest Amateur. On top of all that, he will attempt to qualify for the U.S. Amateur, try to defend his title in the Oregon Stroke Play Championship, and travel to Arizona for the Pacific Coast Amateur Championship in Tucson.
All the while, he will be working to get better.
Martin, who describes Vijarro as “fiery,” would like to see his golfer work this summer on his chipping and putting, and learn to better control his emotions on the course.
“At times, that is why he is good — and that is also why he isn’t better,” Martin says. “When he learns to manage his emotions on the golf course and not get too excited and too fast and too revved up … when he learns to manage those emotions, he’ll be more consistent and be that much better.”
Vijarro says he is up to the challenge.
“I still have stuff to work on before I can start winning tournaments like the national championship,” Vijarro says. “But I think in time here, I think anything is possible. Casey is a great coach and he’s making us better. It’s been good. It’s a good learning experience.”