By Dan Reardon
An athlete who accomplishes something no one has ever done before is entitled to a certain amount of fame. An accomplishment that will likely not be repeated for years deserves a footnote in history. Meet Emiliano Grillo. Yes, the same Grillo who earned so much face time this past week at the Memorial.
The 23-year-old out of Argentina played with the lead pack at Muirfield Village until four straight bogeys starting at the 10th on Sunday gave him a back-nine 41 and a tie for eleventh. But it wasn’t what he did in Ohio that put him in the record books. It’s what he did in the fall to gain entry to events like the Memorial that will likely go unmatched for years to come.
Grillo has been focused on a professional career since he left home at age 16 to develop his talents at the IMG Academy in Florida. He mixed it up in the now famous Class of 2011, a class that includes Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. “He has one of the best golf swings, best strikers of the golf ball I’ve ever seen, one of the best ball flights. He has since he was 14, 15 years old,” said Spieth at Memorial.
Having turned professional at 19, he then followed the path of other Argentine talents, making his way onto the European Tour in 2011, and enjoyed a measure of success. His first professional win came in 2014 back in Argentina. His success generated enough attention that he secured a sponsor’s exemption into the PGA Tour’s 2015 Puerto Rico Open. Four solid rounds put him in a five-way playoff which he lost to Alex Cejka.
He returned to Europe for most of 2015 but decided to take a September run at the PGA Tour through the remaining Web.com schedule. Two top 10s and a missed cut got him to the Web.Com Tour Championship but well outside a Tour card.
He took care of that with four rounds in the sixties and a one-stroke win over Chez Reavie. In just over a month, Grillo accomplished what players spend years hoping for: He found a spot on golf’s preeminent tour. That was the appetizer. Two weeks later he delivered the entrée.
For the first time playing as a member of the PGA Tour, Grillo made it back to back, winning the Frys.com Open in California. No one has ever won their way onto the PGA Tour one week and then won the opening event on the PGA Tour schedule two weeks later. “Well, I can gets used to this. I mean, it’s great. Holding two trophies in three weeks, it’s great. Just beginning the year, and it’s nice to have — to be on top of the FedExCup. That’s awesome. I can say that I was on top of the FedExCup for at least once in my life.”
The remainder of his rookie year to date has been very ordinary, although he did manage a top 20 at the Masters in his first trip around the block at Augusta National. But when he showed up in Dublin, Ohio for Jack’s event, his game came together, particularly on the greens.
“I’ve been hitting the ball pretty well. It was just a matter of dropping some putts. You know, I hit it pretty close this week. Probably the longest putt today was on the 1st hole. So I’ve been hitting really well. It was just a matter of hitting good putts.”
Like Spieth his length is modest, but unlike his friend and rival, Grillo is more accurate off the tee and into the greens. Unlike Spieth his short game numbers leave him in the bottom tier on Tour.
Following his the win at Frys, Spieth tweeted his congratulations and Grillo was asked if he’s following in his fellow ’11 classmate footsteps. “I need five more wins, two majors. He won the Masters, and I’m going to play it for the first time. I’m working on it. I’m really working on it.” In the meantime, he already has his own small place in golf history.
Dan Reardon has covered golf for radio station KMOX in St. Louis for 32 years. In that time, he has covered more than 100 events, including majors and other PGA, LPGA and Champions Tour tournaments. During his broadcast career, Reardon conducted one-on-one interviews with three dozen members of the World Golf of Fame. He has contributed to many publications over the years and co-authored the book Golf’s Greatest Eighteen from Random House. Reardon served as Director of Media relations for LPGA events in both St. Louis and Chicago for 10 years.