Emilio Cuartero has found a home at Mizzou.
Dec. 3, 2013
By Media Relations Student Assistant, Michelle Hantak
Senior Emilio Cuartero has come a long way since his first few months in Columbia. The team captain is one of three international student athletes on the 2013-14 Mizzou Men's Golf roster as he was born and raised in Lledia, Spain, a city located about 100 miles outside of Barcelona. Lledia sits between the Pyrenees Mountains and the coast, and provided Cuartero with a great environment to practice his golf game as he was growing up.
As an adolescent in Spain, Cuartero got involved in sports at a young age, competing in soccer and tennis. When he was eight, Cuartero's father introduced him to the game of golf. "One day my dad took me to the golf course and I liked it," Cuartero said. "It was a new thing and it was something I don't know how, but I fell in love with it." From then on, Cuartero began to immerse himself in the golf scene, making friends with other golfers and participating in tournaments across Europe. He admired professionals like Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia, a fellow Spaniard, but really looked up to his older friends he played with on a daily basis as mentors on the green.
During his amateur career in Europe, Cuartero was the second youngest player to win the British Boys Championship and was a two-time winner of the Jacques Leglise Trophy, awarded by the European Golf Association. Coming out of high school, Cuartero was the No. 1 ranked amateur golfer in Spain and he has continued his success in the United States as a member of the Tiger golf squad.
After winning the European Boys Championship at age 16, Cuartero was approached by a writer from Golfweek Magazine that said he had contacts in the United States that could help him play golf and attend college, something that isn't easily done in Spain. Cuartero explained that athletes in Spain often have to make the choice between an education and furthering their sports career, but moving to the United States would allow him to do both.
Before speaking with the Golfweek contact, Cuartero hadn't thought about leaving his native country, but once the idea was presented to him, it was something he realized he wanted to pursue. Cuartero and his parents began to research different schools and decided that the pros of learning English, having a major, experiencing the world and growing as a person outweighed the cons of being an international student-athlete. Indiana, Charlotte and Jacksonville State were all interested in Cuartero, but Head Coach Mark Leroux's desire for the Spainard to be a Mizzou Tiger is what ultimately led him to Columbia.
"Coach Leroux heard about me and contacted me through Skype," Cuartero said. "I talked to him a couple of times and he was so enthusiastic and happy about me being interested in Missouri. I loved that so much, that I just committed as soon as he offered."
When moving to Missouri, Cuartero had absolutely no idea what he was in for. All he could picture was a tiny town in the middle of nowhere with lots of cows, cornfields and soybeans, but was pleasantly surprised when he discovered the university and the city had more to offer than just open fields and crops. The senior experienced college football, American food and American celebrations for the first time and began to fall in love with the country.
To say Cuartero's first few months in the United States were challenging would be an understatement however. The transition to college is tough for any freshman, but the added pressure of being international and a student-athlete was something Cuartero struggled with. Cuartero worked hard to meet the SAT and TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) exam requirements for student-athletes, but admitted he could barely hold a minute's worth of conversation in English before becoming confused.
"It was rough to express my feelings if I was frustrated or happy," Cuartero said. "It was tough to talk to my friends and hang out with them because I didn't always understand what was going on."
During his first semester, Cuartero was forced to enroll in many English classes that conflicted with practice time. He was only able to practice once a week and his golf game suffered, but the relentless competitor inside of him forced him to keep working at English to get back into a regular practice routine.
"I knew I wanted to come here and that it would be a good investment in my life and a good experience," Cuartero said. "If I had to do one year working hard and not doing what I liked, I knew it would be better after that."
Cuartero also struggled with cultural differences and homesickness during his first year. Little things like meal times or greeting styles really threw Cuartero for a loop as he was trying to adjust to his new home. Back in Spain, Cuartero left behind his mother, father, younger sister and many friends he had gone to school with since kindergarten. Communication with friends and family back home was difficult because of the time difference and Cuartero sometimes felt isolated and alone.
Cuartero attributes much of his positive adaption and adjustments to fellow Men's Golf senior captain, Hunter Kraus. Cuartero and Kraus lived together their freshman and sophomore years and Cuartero doesn't think he would have transitioned as well to the American lifestyle without Kraus' assistance.
"He helped me out a lot when it was rough," Cuartero said. "He took me home for Thanksgiving at his house and he'd hang out with me all the time. If I had a problem with English, he would try to help me out and understand."
Head Coach Mark Leroux has watched Cuartero's development since his first day in Columbia and seen the incredible transformation one of his top players has made over the past four years.
"Emilio really opened some doors for students that were challenged by the TOEFL exam and he came in and set the record straight," Leroux said. "He really showed that the support staff that we have in athletics could really help the kids who at first, didn't appear to be able to handle college academically."
As Cuartero became more adjusted and comfortable with life in the United States, his golf game took off. As a freshman, Cuartero participated in 9-of-13 events and secured two Top 10 finishes, including a first place finish at the Washington State Snowman Getaway. He also shot his career-lowest round score of 65 at that same event. Cuartero was added to the starting rotation for Mizzou Golf during his sophomore season, participating in all 12 events. That season, Cuartero had six Top 10 finishes and one individual victory at the John Dallio Memorial. Cuartero continued his outstanding play in his junior season. Along with former Tiger, Jace Long, the pair led the Tigers to one of their best golf seasons in recent history. Cuartero tallied another six Top 10 finishes and was the top performer for the Tigers at NCAA regionals where he tied for ninth. Cuartero is on pace to finish out his Mizzou career strong. In five fall events, the senior has three Top 10 finishes. He won the Columbia Regional Preview, finished third at the Turning Stone Tournament and tied for sixth at the fall season finale, the Wendy's Kiawah Classic.
For Cuartero, the most challenging part of golf is the solitude that often comes with the game. "You have to be by yourself and I don't really like that about it, Cuartero said. "To play golf at a high level you have to be mature because you have to be able to motivate yourself."
Even though much of his time spent on the course is alone, he really appreciates the support of his teammates.
"We have a great team and everyone is different," Cuartero said. "We're just 11 guys that have fun and work to get better."
Off the course, Cuartero enjoys hanging out with his friends and playing sports. He's even dabbled in throwing around the pigskin, something he's learned to love during his time spent in the United States.
Closing out his senior year of college, Cuartero has no regrets with his decision to move to the United States and pursue an academic degree in agricultural business and further his golf career.
"It's been a good four years," Cuartero said. "I'm kind of sad that I have to graduate because it is a wonderful and amazing place, but at the same time I'm excited to see my family again and start my next steps into the professional world." Cuartero has high expectations going into the spring 2014 season, predicting the team will make it out of regionals, hosted at The Club at Old Hawthorne, and into the national tournament.
After graduation in May, Cuartero plans to play in various tournaments throughout the summer and hopefully participate in the PGA Qualifying School to pursue his dream of playing on the Untied States PGA Tour. "When I think of a perfect future now, it's that I'll turn pro and play and live in the United States," Cuartero said. "I love the people here, the environment, the country, the beliefs and the patriotism. I had so much fun that I don't want to end it, I want to keep going." Although Cuartero misses his family, he realizes that the best golfers play in the United States and he thoroughly enjoys playing on American soil because the courses are so beautiful and diversely challenging.
Cuartero wouldn't trade his experience at Mizzou for anything and said, "I'm just so thankful for Coach Leroux for giving me the opportunity to come here." The senior has grown up a lot during his time at Mizzou, excelling on the course and working hard to excel in the classroom. He believes that his time spent in Missouri has helped him grow up a lot and realize that there's more to life than winning a golf tournament.
When reflecting on his time spent at Mizzou, Cuartero said, "After three and a half years here, I can now say that this is the best decision I took in my life." Mizzou Golf will miss Cuartero when he graduates in May, but can reflect, with Cuartero, positively on his time spent at the university.
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