Isaac Sanchez's introduction to American golf fans took place Tuesday night when he advanced past the premiere episode of the Golf Channel's "Big Break Greenbrier" reality series.
The irony is that, for the past five years, Sanchez has backed away from the big-break mentality that's so prevalent among the thousands of minitour pros who buck long odds by rationalizing that they're just a few magical, birdie-filled weeks from reaching the PGA Tour.
In a reality check, Sanchez embraced a prove-yourself-locally-first plan and a philosophy intended to hold him more accountable in the short term and make him more successful in the long run.
Sanchez, 33, said his measured approach is working. He's making a living and helping support his family playing golf. The PGA Tour remains the ultimate goal, "Big Break" results pending, but
"I'm not hitting every shot with the weight of the world on my shoulders," he said Monday at Empire Ranch near his Folsom home.
Growing into a nickname
There's little about Sanchez's pro golf pursuit that's conventional.
He's 6-foot-6 and 330 pounds in a sport dominated by wiry 5-10, 170-pounders.
His height, massive hands and size-16 feet are products of gigantism, which he endured for two years as a teenager when a tumor on his pituitary gland caused his body to produce excessive growth hormone.
"My dad and I used to joke that I should have kept it for another year. I could be 7-2 and playing for the Lakers if I survived," he said. "The gut is all me. That's cheeseburgers and Dr Pepper."
Friends started calling him "Sasquatch" during his growth spurt. It's a nickname that's stuck and fits, Sanchez said.
"You might not remember some guy you played with 15 years ago," Sanchez said. "People remember me. Big man. Dark skin. Hits it a long way. Can play."
And Sanchez thinks little about swing mechanics.
Sanchez took up the game at age 9 in a pasture at the Rancho Cordova intersection of Sunrise Boulevard and White Rock Road, where his dad left him with a man who used to teach there. The youngster would hit a 5-gallon bucket worth of balls, fill the bucket back up, and then empty it again.
"After the first day, that's all I wanted to do all day, every day," he said.
His relatively short backswing is a product of learning to hit his driver "off the deck" in that field. When Will Robins, his coach, watched Sanchez hit balls Monday, it was the first time in six months he'd seen the player swing.
"If Tiger Woods would just stop thinking about his swing and play golf, he'd win 40 majors," Sanchez said.
Philosophy leaves an impression
Sanchez was a strong junior player who, after graduating from Amador High School, earned a scholarship to Hawaii, where he competed for two years before turning pro at 20. He spent the next eight years without much of a plan or success.
"I called myself a professional golfer, but I wasn't making any money," he said. "For eight years, I was lucky to break even."
Like most young pros, Sanchez lamented a lack of financial resources that would enable him to compete where and when he wanted. In the meantime, with a wife and two kids to help support, he took jobs framing houses or paving driveways between tournaments.
Robins was a fellow minitour player when the men met eight years ago. They're the same age.
Robins' life was turned upside down in December 2004 when he and his wife were caught in a tsunami while on their honeymoon in Thailand. Both suffered severe injuries that kept them hospitalized for six weeks.
After spending most of 2005 recovering, Robins gave competitive golf another whirl in 2006. But after about a year, he turned to helping others achieve their golf dreams.
"I decided I wanted to revolutionize teaching," Robins said.
Robins didn't invent the concept of "Be Do Have," but he applies it to golf. The general idea is: Be the person you want to be. Do the things this type of person would do. Have the results this type of person has.
"Most people think the reverse," Robins said. "That they have to have something before they can be the person they want to be."
Sanchez and Robins started talking more in 2007. It didn't take long for Sanchez, spinning his wheels for so long, to go all in. He has "Be Do Have" tattooed on his neck.
"I trust Will," he said. "If he tells me to eat strawberry Cheerios in the morning, I'm going to eat strawberry Cheerios."
'I found that I can do this'
Robins didn't do anything to improve Sanchez's swing, but he helped the player develop his confidence and a structure. If you can't be profitable regionally, you won't be nationally, Robins reasoned. Sanchez narrowed his focus and said he's now netting $50,000 a year in gambling games, pro-ams and state opens.
A watershed moment came in 2009. With half enough money to pay rent and conventional wisdom suggesting he get hourly work to earn the rest, Sanchez instead traveled to Oregon for a tournament. He turned $1,000 into $2,500.
"It was like a lightning bolt of 'Be, Do, Have' energy," he said. "At some point, you have to put it on the line. It was time. I found that I can do this."
As a result: "I'm not chasing the dream, I'm living it," he said.
Next year, Sanchez plans to move to officiated tours. He's eyeing the fall of 2013 for his first crack at Q-school.
"I just didn't find the staircase until I was 27," he said.
The winner of the "Big Break" receives $80,000 in cash and prizes and an exemption into next year's PGA Tour Greenbrier Classic in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va. Sanchez isn't allowed to reveal how he fared, but if his plan works out, it won't matter.