Athlete of the week: Juan Jose Guerra

Juan Jose “JJ” Guerra is a junior business major from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic and part of NSU men’s golf team. He was chosen by the GCAA to join the 2016 DII Freshman All-American Team in his freshman year. As a sophomore, he was named NCAA All-American Honorable Mention as well as All-South Region by finishing with the second highest stroke average at 73.21. He was featured in Golfweek’s Club 60 honors when he broke the course record during the second day of the Battle at the Shores and finished in second place.

When did you begin playing golf?

“I started it when I was 2 ½ years old. I was born in 1997 and my dad started playing in 1998, so you could say we kind of had the fever going on. And then he started taking me to every golf course he went to and after that I just fell in love with it. When I was 14 or 15, I decided that I wanted make a career out of it. So, I started playing more, practicing more and started looking at the sport in a different way.”

What motivates you to keep playing golf?

“Just the competition and knowing what I can accomplish is what keeps me going every day. The satisfaction when you do something right, when you break a course record, when you win a tournament, that’s what keeps every athlete going. That’s the cool thing about golf; you can’t get stuck. You are always getting better and I think that is the beauty of the sport.”

What are some major achievements you have accomplished over these past few years at NSU?

“Well, my freshman year, my goal was to get into the Top 5 of the team and I did that right away and in my first two tournaments I finished runner-up and then third. That gave a lot of confidence to keep going. After that I kind of got stuck. I didn’t play well for a couple of months, but my sophomore year in April I broke the record at Normandy in Miami Beach. That opened my eyes and made me realize what I’m capable of, and  I started to practice harder and harder just to accomplish my dreams. So far, this year I’ve been pretty close to my goal.”

What are your goals after you graduate?

“When I graduate, I want to play professionally. I still don’t know if I want to turn pro right away or if I’m going to wait until 2020; I graduate in May 2019. So, I might wait until January 2020, but I want to play professionally for sure. That’s what I have been preparing for all these years and it’s something that has always been my dream and I want at least to give it a try. I know it’s a tough career, but I don’t want to have any regrets.”

How was your transition from the Dominican Republic to the States?

“It was different. My senior year of high school I studied in a golf academy in Orlando. That basically got me in here [NSU] with the scholarship opportunity I was offered. It wasn’t as shocking for me to come to college since I already spent a year of high school [in the U.S.], but it’s definitely different. We don’t have golf programs back in the Dominican Republic, we don’t have sports scholarships, we don’t have any of that, so I think I’m really privileged to be able to have this opportunity, and I love it. I love the course being right next to my house, that’s something that doesn’t happen back home. It’s definitely easier to play golf here than back home.”

What would you say is the most difficult thing for you as a student-athlete?

“As a student-athlete I think it’s just the balance between practice time and school time and doing both right as well as having a social life. It’s hard to balance all three because you can get carried away by school and then your sport side takes a toll or the other way around. It’s really easy to fall into this, so it’s pretty hard to keep a balance. My freshman year, since I was new at this, I didn’t do a good job at it and I focused more on the sport and kind of let school go down a little, but I hope that I’m doing it better now. I’m trying my best and I think that is the tough part about being a student-athlete. [Students] are required to do well in all three areas of their lives. You have to be a nice person, social, you have to do well in school as well as in your sport, and most people don’t have to do that. I think it’s an advantage and it’s also a disadvantage but at the end it’s worth it.”

How is your relationship with your teammates?

“I love them. I’ve been a part of three teams now at NSU. The first team I was in my freshman year its completely gone now. I’m the last guy standing from that team because I was the youngest guy. It was a really mature team and I was the youngest guy by a couple of years and I learned a lot from them. Then last year, we had a team that is pretty similar to the current one and with them, I was one of the most experienced guys on the team because I had been at NSU the longest, and this year again. It’s interesting to see how much the team and you, as a player, change over the years. I’ve learned a lot from really good players that are currently playing professional golf and it’s something that you look up to. You see the guys that you were playing with a couple years ago out there winning, earning money and participating in professional tournaments and you want to do the same, so that inspires me.”

Do you have any special ritual you do before every tournament?

“Not really, I’m not a very superstitious guy. I just try to prepare the best for every event. I always use a ball marker, something that I use to mark the ball with, and I have used the same one for the last nine years. If I don’t play with that, I’m not playing well. But I’ve never lost it, I still have it with me every day. But, I always try and prepare the best for the tournaments and if I know the course beforehand I try to prepare as much as I can on that specific course. If there’s a course that is tight or a course that is wide open, you try to adjust yourself to that course before the week of the tournament.”

If you weren’t playing golf, what would you be doing instead?

“That’s a question that a lot of people ask me. I have been playing the sport for 17 ½, almost 18 years now. So, it’s pretty hard for to me to see myself doing something else, but my mom is an architect and my dad is an entrepreneur and I feel like I’d be something like an entrepreneur as well. But, if I didn’t play college golf, I feel like I would still be related to some kind of sport because I just love them all. Coming from the Dominican Republic, I love baseball and my family, my grandpa used to play baseball all the time. So, I would probably be doing something related to sports and business. But to be honest, I can’t picture myself doing anything else other than golf.”

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