LA ROMANA, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC | As difficult as COVID-19 has been for so many in so many ways, people have nonetheless managed to find silver linings in the pandemic. Like 40-year-old Jeronimo Esteve IV.
A native of Puerto Rico who has lived in Florida since he was 9 years old and now helps run his family’s car dealerships in Orlando and Miami, Esteve used the free time that came with the lockdowns in 2020 to work on his golf game. Already a strong player, he took his game to an even higher level that led to his winning his first amateur tournament of note that autumn – and then to triumph three more times in 2021, while taking medalist honors at the Crump Cup and reaching match play in last year’s U.S. Mid-Amateur.
“Yes, 2021 was a very good year for me,” said Esteve, a cancer survivor and Dartmouth graduate who played on the college golf team for four years as he earned a degree in economics. “But we cannot talk about 2021 without talking about what happened the year before. I was able to play a lot of golf that year with my friends at Isleworth and started shooting a lot of very good scores. The more I did that, the more comfortable I became with some swing changes I had made and the more confident I became with my play.”
“It was Matt Borchert, the golf professional at Isleworth, who suggested I make the first of those adjustments,” added Esteve, who goes by the nickname Jero (pronounced hair-o) and is the father of three boys. “I had always hit a draw, but Matt felt that given the way I moved through the ball, I should be hitting fades instead. So, that’s what I started doing, and it really improved both my distance and accuracy off the tee. Then Skip Kendall gave me a putting lesson after we had played together, and that helped as well. All of a sudden, things started really falling into place.”
“I had always thought I could compete in these big events and win them. Now, I am at the point when I am actually able to do so.”
It began with that first win in November 2020, at a tournament for elite amateurs called “The Muppet” played at Trump National in the Washington D.C. area.
“Michael Muehr put it on with some guys from Pine Valley and other places, to give a bunch of us a tournament to play amidst all the shutdowns,” recalled Esteve. “The quality of the field was really good, but the weather was terrible. Rainy, windy and cold.
“Somehow, I ended up winning. I had come close before, and in 2018, I played in the final group of something like six events but never managed to close the deal. This time, I did, though. It was a huge monkey off my back and an affirmation of all the work I had been doing. I went on a bit of a roll after that.”
Indeed, he did, winning the esteemed Carlton Woods Invitational outside Houston the following spring and after that the Caribbean Amateur Golf Championship and the Devil’s Elbow Invitational mid-amateur at the Puntacana Resort & Club in the Dominican Republic.
When the year was done Esteve had come to be considered one of the better mid-amateur golfers in the country.
“I had always thought I could compete in these big events and win them,” said Esteve, who last week represented Puerto Rico as he competed in his sixth Latin America Amateur Championship and finished T9. “Now, I am at the point when I am actually able to do so.”
Esteve was born in 1981 and grew up in the Puerto Rican capital of San Juan. His mother, Yasmin, is a native of that land, and his father, Jeronimo Esteve III, a Cuban who left his homeland with his family in 1959 after Fidel Castro and his cadres had taken over the country.
“My family had nothing when they fled Cuba for Puerto Rico,” said Esteve, who was one of only a handful of mid-ams in the LAAC field – and whose graying hair and stocky build make him stand out in a tournament full of college-aged hard-bellies. “But when my father and grandfather arrived in San Juan, they went right to work. They sold jukeboxes and pool tables for a while, then appliances from GE and cars from Honda. In 1989, my father bought a Toyota dealership in Miami. Not long after that, we moved to the States.”
Esteve was about to start fourth grade when that happened – and was just getting interested in golf. “My father introduced me to the game,” he said. “He worked with me through high school and eventually set me up with some lessons at Jim McLean’s golf academy at Doral. I practiced a lot and did well enough over time to get recruited by Dartmouth.”
Esteve married in 2005 to Mari, who also had a Cuban father and a Puerto Rican mother. Four years later, the first of their children were born, and the family opened a Honda dealership in Orlando, Florida, to go with the one they had in Miami. Things, it seemed, could not be going better.
But in 2011, doctors diagnosed him with stage 1 Hodgkin lymphoma, after Esteve discovered a lump in his neck as he was being fitted for a suit for his sister’s wedding. Soon after, he traveled to Houston, Texas, to start six months of chemotherapy and radiation.
“I had been planning to try to play in the 2012 U.S. Mid-Am when I learned I had cancer,” recalled Esteve, who had bounced around mini-tours for a spell after college, before getting into the family business and getting reinstated as an amateur. “But I sort of put those thoughts on hold while I was going through my treatments. When I was done with chemo, however, I discovered there was a qualifier nearby. I was still getting radiation, however, and had to convince the doctor to let me give it a try. I received an early tee time for the qualifier, so all we had to reschedule was what usually was a morning radiation treatment for the afternoon that day.”
Esteve played in the morning, and played well, shooting 2-under par. He then hustled back to the hospital for his radiation. Checking the scores as soon as the doctors completed the procedure, Esteve discovered that he was one of five people in a playoff for four spots. So, he hustled back to the golf course and managed to make four pars in the playoff to get into his first USGA championship.
If Esteve can beat cancer – and fight his way into the field of a USGA championship just moments after doctors infused his body with cancer-killing poison – then there seems to be no limit to what he can accomplish on this earth.
Witness where he has just taken his golf game.
Top: 40-year-old Jeronimo Esteve IV stood out among the college-age hard-bellies at Latin America Amateur