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JACK WEATHERLY — ‘El boom Latino’ heard at the Sanderson Farms Championship

JACK WEATHERLY

Welcome to Mississippi, Senor Munoz.

Let’s expand that welcome to the whole country, because Sebastian Munoz truly arrived in the United States in a big way on Sunday.

In Jackson, he won his first PGA golf tournament, opening the door to bigger and better things.

His achievement was set up when he sank a 15-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole in regulation – igniting a roar from the crowd in the stands surrounding the green and forcing a playoff with Sunjae Im, PGA rookie of the year.

For a Latino, albeit a middle-class kid who grew up on his family’s rubber-tree farm in Colombia, it’s not what you might expect if you relied on recent news, much of it putting the state and country in an unflattering light.

But now he has realized the American Dream, overnight it seems, winning $1.2 million.

You can equally say that the tournament arrived this year also.

Aside from that wad of cash, the winner now gets 500 FedEx Cup points, invitations to next year’s Masters, PGA and Players tourneys and for two years is exempt from qualifying for the top circuit.

The Jackson event will move its dates to Oct. 1-4 in 2020, Sanderson Farms Chief Executive and Chairman Joe Sanderson said Sunday during the award ceremony, moving it into the fall, and possibly lower temperatures.

As a member of the University of North Texas golf team, Munoz, now 26, said that he never entertained being a pro.

But the PGA had other ideas. It started what it calls the PGA Latinoamerica Tour, which gave Munoz his start. Then Munoz climbed to the Web.com Tour (now the Korn Ferry Tour).

He made it to the PGA Tour, only to slip back to the Web.com. Now he is back on the PGA, running with the big dogs, some of whom showed up for this year’s fatter purse (Cam Champ won $774,000 as last year’s winner) and the other enticements.

But Mississippi is being dogged with an image problem with Latinos.That, of course, stems from the raid by immigration agents in which several hundred undocumented Latino workers in poultry processing plants were arrested in August. Sanderson Farms was not among those processors that were raided.

Sanderson Farms is the third-largest poultry processor in the United States. It has sponsored the tournament that from 2013 through 2018 has yielded $8.1 million to charities in Mississippi, primarily the Batson Children’s Hospital.

The tournament has expanded its stands, including six around the 18th, including one for the public, all with a fully stocked cash bar.

The crowd in our shelter tended to get louder — though short of rowdy, so I am selfishly glad the playoff was not extended —  back in the bar area in the last couple of hours of the tourney after my wife and I had arrived with about half the field still on the course. Yet the imbibing fans responded politely when an arm was raised for silence, whether it held a “Hush, Y’all” card or not.

“The goal is to sell more hospitality to raise more money for charity,” said Steve Jent, director of the tournament.

And organizers, of course, want to make the event attractive to the players.

“We had a bunch of compliments from all the players” on the condition of the 7,334-yard course, Jent said.

Most likely Munoz has no complaints.

Carlos Ortiz of Mexico, who finished fourth, was in the final twosome with with Munoz, his former teammate at North Texas. Those two amigos and others are playing off one another to build their confidence that they can win against the best.

They are in the vanguard of what a hispanic publication calls “el boom Latino,” which was heard loud and clear on the CCJ 18th hole on Sunday.

JACK WEATHERLY is a reporter at the Mississippi Business Journal. He can be reached at jack.weatherly@msbusiness.com.

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About Jack Weatherly