Chavez Tabs Hogs

HawgsIllustrated.com publisher Clay Henry caught up with blue-chip recruit Sam Chavez, his father and his golf instructor this week after the Californian issued a verbal pledge to become a Razorback. Here's what they had to say concerning Sam's decision to play golf at Arkansas.

Sam Chavez sat with the other 80,785 in Notre Dame Stadium last week as top 25 scores from around the nation were announced over the public address system. Arkansas 27, Auburn 10 was announced late in the day and it brought a loud ovation from the Irish faithful.

No doubt, those Notre Dame fans weren't cheering for Arkansas. They were cheering because a team ranked above the Irish had fallen.

Sam Chavez cheered for a different reason. He cheered for HIS team, the Arkansas Razorbacks. That's what the Hogs became last weekend as he neared the end of his official visit to the Notre Dame campus.

"I was cheering, too," said Chavez, the Hillsborough, Calif., product who committed to UA golf coach Brad McMakin earlier this week.

By then, he probably knew he was going to be a Razorback and was cheering for his future school.

It's quite a development for the Hog golf program. It's McMakin's first national commitment of major substance and it's major for several reasons.

First and foremost, Chavez is a true blue chip player. He's had a breakout summer on the American Junior Golf Association national circuit with a bunch of top 10s. He's also from an area outside the Hogs' usual recruiting area and brings hope that a pipeline to the fertile California golf circuit might develop.

However, that's not all of it. It's the Chavez name. It's a feather in the UA's cap that Chavez, chased by the likes of Notre Dame, Duke, Wake Forest, Xavier and others with both solid golf and top-shelf academics, picked the Hogs.

The Chavez name should raise eyebrows in our area's Hispanic community. Sam's grandfather has a huge legacy. Cesar Estrada Chavez helped found the United Farm Workers in the mid-1960s in California and later in Texas. He led a march on the state capitol of Sacremento in 1965 with Mexican immigrants, Mexican-Americans and Filipinos to mark a strike that lasted five years.

Chavez and his followers eventually won the first major labor victory for US farm workers. He also led a 1966 march by farm workers on the state capitol in Austin, Texas. In 1969, there was yet another march, this time to protest the use of illegal aliens by California growers.

The bio on Cesar Chavez is as impressive a read as I've ever seen. There's the part about bouncing through 37 schools before dropping out of school before completing high school as his family went from farm to farm to survive. Ultimately, though, education became the major tenant in all of his many speeches and lectures.

"The end of all education should surely be service to others," Cesar Chavez said often.

Fernando Chavez, Cesar's oldest son and Sam's dad, got that message loud and clear. He's a holder of three degrees (Santa Clara, San Jose State and Antioch) and is one of California's top lawyers. Wife Myriam holds a journalism degree from Columbia and a law degree from Georgetown. Sam's older brothers attend Dartmouth and Brown.

At first glance, Arkansas doesn't appear to fit with that bunch. But that's where Sam's passion to excel at golf and the new UA golf coaches dovetail.

How Sam Chavez landed at Arkansas starts a little over four years ago when Fernando matched him with golf instructor Martin Hall at a club near their Miami, Fla., summer home. Sam flourished under Hall's instruction. It is Hall's link to UA assistant coach Lane Savoie that ultimately set the wheels in motion for Sam to be a Razorback.

But it was quite by chance that Savoie and Sam Chavez met this past August at an AJGA event in Kansas City, an event Sam wanted to skip.

"Sam had played very well all summer, just been on a real streak," Fernando said. "But he was burned out. We'd traveled all summer. There was this one tournament left on the schedule he was to play, but he wanted to skip it."

Dad wanted son to reconsider. He advised, "Ride this hot streak out and go to Kansas City," and they did.

That was a good thing for the Hogs. Chavez shot 71-69-68 and was finishing up the final day when Savoie came upon his pairing.

"Coach Savoie was actually looking at a different player in Sam's group, but liked his swing," Fernando said. "He asked me permission to video his swing and I told him it was fine. Afterwards, we talked and he said, ‘You will be hearing from us.' But we were pretty far along in the recruiting process. That was pretty late for Arkansas to be coming into the mix."

Sure enough, two days later, McMakin phoned and made his pitch, possibly falling on deaf ears.

Then, there came a call from Hall and a message that Arkansas should be put right square in the middle of the loop. He had high praise for Savoie.

"Sam works with Martin Hall when we are in Florida and with Ben Doyle when we are in California," Fernando said. "They are among the best (instructors) in the country. All at once, we are getting phone calls from Ben and Martin telling us about Coach Savoie."

It seemed that Hall, Doyle and Savoie are all on the same page as far as swing technique.

"Not all college teams have a teacher like Coach Savoie on campus and here we find out that he teaches the same methods that Sam has been getting," Fernando said. "Martin strongly recommended that we consider Arkansas and take an official visit."

Hall said, "I've tried to advise the family on golf decisions and so far things have gone well. The key in this decision was that Lane Savoie and I have both come under the same influence of a teacher, Chuck Cook, who I happen to think is the best in the business. We teach the same things and communicate in the same methods. So, Sam would have a teacher there in Lane that would be seeing his swing in the same way. I think we would be able to talk on the phone and know what we are speaking about. That's probably not going to be the case very often and it makes things ideal.

"From what I understand, this is a place that is ideal as far as facilities. What Mr. (John) Tyson has done as far as the practice facility is unique. I understand it is the best. If Peter Kostis had a hand in it, and I understand he did, it would be nothing short of sensational.

"Sam? He's a great kid from a wonderful family. He's got heart, is a fine player and a fine person. All of that is important.

"His game? The best way to say it is that his strength is that he has no real weakness. He's way above average in every category and keeps getting better. He has a repeatable swing that is efficient and effective. He hits the ball extremely well.

"Oh, there's another one like him, his brother, Eduardo. He's 15 and he is every bit the same kind of player as Sam, very, very talented."

The Arkansas visit came on the Alabama football weekend and pretty much sealed the deal, although mom and dad asked Sam to finish his visits.

"When we got there, Sam took to both Coach McMakin and Coach Savoie," Fernando said. "There was a lot of laughing and joking. We also went to the office of Mr. (Frank) Broyles, the athletic director. He was bigger than life. He had pictures of Augusta National in his office."

Sam said, "Mr. Broyles was working on his putting stroke when we got to his office. It was a beautiful setting, looking out into the football stadium. I love SEC football and I know it since we live part of the year in Florida and we travel the south for AJGA events."

The double overtime victory over Alabama gave Sam an impressive dose of Razorback fans.

"Our seats were in the club section, very nice," he said. "The fans cheered like crazy for the Razorbacks. I know the team has been down the last couple of years and they were cheering like they were playing for a national championship.

"We fell in love with the coaches, Mr. (Frank) Broyles, the school, the community and especially the golf facilities at the Blessings Golf Club."

Fernando and Myriam low-keyed the visit.

"We were finding it all kind of hard to believe," Fernando said. "We didn't say much at all. We could tell that the visit took Arkansas to the top with Sam, but we kept thinking that the others had been in a two-year process and then BOOM-BOOM-BOOM it was all over and it was Arkansas. He was way sold.

"But it is the right decision. Arkansas is the place that can take Sam to the next level with his golf. He wants to play in the SEC. Everything is perfect."

The practice facility at The Blessings was a huge factor.

"Just before we came on the visit, I had a national golf magazine and I turned open a page to new courses and there was this story about The Blessings," Sam said. "It says, ‘Home of Razorback Golf.' And, it was wonderful. I play at Olympic Club (in San Francisco) when we are in California and the facilities are very nice, but not what they have at The Blessings.

"I know some think I'm from California and that's a long way to Arkansas, but because we spent so much time in Florida and playing junior golf in the south, it wasn't hard to get me from California to Arkansas."

Obviously, academics are important in the Chavez family and Arkansas had an ace there, too, with the Sam Walton School of Business.

"I'm undecided on my major right now, but we saw that academics were strong at Arkansas," Sam said. "There may be an area as far as sports management that fits."

What fit the best was the swing thoughts from McMakin and Savoie. Interestingly, McMakin's former players at Lamar were playing in a tournament at Notre Dame that coincided with Sam's official visit to South Bend.

"I made sure to go look at Lamar on the range," Sam said. "Of all the teams there, they had the best players. I envisioned myself looking as they looked. They definitely had the best swings." Obviously, he saw the hand prints of McMakin and Savoie.

"Yes, you could tell they had very good instruction," Sam said. "I feel like I've had that, too. And, the good part is that I didn't switch from soccer and baseball until recently and I'm still hungry for golf. I'm coming to Arkansas because that's the program that can take me to the next level."

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