Fabián Gómez couldn’t think clearly.
Under normal circumstances, the two-time PGA TOUR winner would have focused on a second consecutive Top 25 placement. A round of 67 in the first round at the John Deere Classic had him competing again, and another solid week could get him into the conversation for the FedExCup playoffs.
And yet his thoughts were elsewhere.
When the Argentine stalked the sixth fairway at the TPC Deere Run, memories came back from life. From their first steps together in Chaco, Argentina, to their moments together in elementary school and beyond, it all led Gómez to become one of his closest friends and confidants.
Just hours before the start of the second round of the John Deere Classic, Gómez received heartbreaking news that his friend Hugo “Patito” Aguirre had died in Argentina. He was the youngest victim of COVID-19.
The 42-year-old did his best to get through the pain. But when the inevitable finally came and Gómez just couldn’t take it anymore, he started crying at the sixth green. His play partners Josh Teater and Cameron Percy didn’t quite understand what was going on.
Gomez decided that there was no point in going on because the pain was too great to go on with no comfort around him. He explained the situation to his colleagues and withdrew from the tournament.
This week the Argentine honored his friend at the Barbasol Championship, where he donated $ 500 for every birdie he made to the Aguirre family at Keene Trace Golf Club. The Argentine established a deep, personal relationship with Aguirre, knowing that his wife Carina and their two young daughters were now facing economic needs and knew that this was the best way to provide for his friend.
“The idea came up that Friday night and I liked it because I really wanted to play well for him,” said Gómez on Friday morning. “My motivation is twofold, not just to go out and do birdies, but to play to win.”
Gómez opened the Barbasol Championship with a 3-under 69 that included four birdies. He battled his way to a 2-over 74 on Friday, but three more birdies still managed to bring his total donation to $ 3,500 for the week.
“(Thursday) was not a very good day with all the suspensions,” said Gómez before the round on Friday, “but the idea was always to do birdies because I know I am playing for him and his family.”
Gómez and Aguirre were together for most of their lives. They lived just blocks from the famous Chaco Golf Club in northeast Argentina, an area of high temperatures and sparse economic resources but with great will to move forward. In addition to Gómez, the Chaco Golf Club has produced winners of the PGA TOUR with José Cóceres and Emiliano Grillo.
The two friends made their first swings on this course where they began to love the game and learn its secrets by wearing clubs every time they went to school.
Aguirre was the first to take greater chances and eventually moved to Los Cardales, about 60 kilometers north of Buenos Aires. He then successfully encouraged Fabián to join him, tempted by the myriad of golf courses in the area that could help him transition to professional golf.
Every Monday the couple had an almost obligatory meeting at the nearby La Orquídea Golf Club, where Aguirre got a job as a “master caddy”. As the years passed and Gómez began to make a name for himself among South American professionals, the club became not only Gómez’s home game, but also what appeared to be a second home for him and Patito to make memories.
Gómez hopes to be able to repay Patito one more time in La Orquídea, where he plans to organize a benefit tournament in the future.
“I will collect different golf prizes in the tournaments I play from now on,” he said. “I don’t think I can go there because of the pandemic in my country and the cancellation of all flights, but I plan to send them prices.”
Gómez, of course, was meant for bigger things. A successful PGA TOUR career that culminated in more than 200 events in nine seasons finally brought him to Miami in 2017, far away from his people and his good friend. But every time he had the chance to return to Argentina, he always reserved time for an “asado” (barbecue) with his buddy Patito.
Now that Gómez has come to terms with the immediate grief of his longtime friend and confidante, he will look for other ways to alleviate the burden that Aguirre’s family is confronted with.
He will do anything for his best friend. That alone is of enormous value.
He’ll do it for Patito.