Perez

Senior Marta Perez has been a mentor to freshman Marina Escobar Domingo.

Marina Escobar Domingo knows that at 16 years old, playing in a golf tournament among Spain’s best, including her idol, was quite a feat.

Watching Marta Perez win the 2018 Spanish Ladies Amateur Championship while Marina claimed a top-10 finish was also remarkable. 

Unknown to Marina, Marta had her scouting eye on the younger golfer — a player she had met only a few times.

Three weeks later, Marina found herself competing beside Marta again in the 2018 British Ladies Amateur Championship.

But it was a different Gator who took first place this time — now redshirt junior Elin Esborn — but Marina had an unforgettable weekend of her own.

It began with Marta approaching her in a conversation mid-tournament that led to the beginning of her journey as a Florida Gator and an unbreakable bond.

The end result would be a lasting friendship through life and sports.

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The Florida women’s golf team boasts one of the most internationally decorated rosters on campus. Over half of the women’s golf team is based out of Europe.

Marta and Marina call Spain home. Esborn is from Sweden and sophomore Clara Manzalini and senior Carlotta Ricolfi originate from Italy.

Head coach Emily Glaser and assistant coach Janice Olivencia aren’t new to developing foreign talent. In the eight seasons they’ve coached together, the program has boasted LPGA and Ladies European Tour members such as Maria Torres and Sarah Schober.

Marina’s quick five-month recruitment wasn’t surprising to Olivencia, who followed Marta’s advice to bring her to Gainesville. Florida reached out to Marina in June 2018, she verbally committed that August, and signed her letter of intent the following November.

“Sometimes it happens that way,” Olivencia said. “Marina is all around what every program is trying to look for.”

Olivencia had been trying to get Marta’s approval to bring in another Spaniard since her freshman year. Marta was reluctant, but said her feelings changed immediately upon meeting Marina.

“She was awesomely normal,” the senior said. “For me, normal is a really great compliment, because I’ve met a lot of weird people lately.”

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It didn’t take long for Marina to gel with her teammates.

Initially quiet, she communicated on the golf course and made quite an impression with her rhythm off of the tee.

“Her swing is beautiful,” Olivencia said. “(She has a) great tempo.”

Marta was drawn by her iron play and ball striking.

“She hits the ball so straight,” Marta said.

Marta is the proper authority on talent, having played among the world’s best female amateur golfers at the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur. Before collegiate golf, both she and Marina attended IES Ortega y Gasset, a two-year college preparatory program in Madrid that combines sports and studies, similar to Florida’s famed IMG Academy. 

Among IES Ortega y Gasset’s alumni includes the current No. 1-ranked European golfer, Jon Rahm.

Although the program gave Marina a taste of living away from home, attending a university in the United States required many additional adjustments.

From more freedom to diving deeper into the English language, chasing her dream has come with its challenges — which might sound surprising for a student-athlete who routinely had 14 hour-days at IES Ortega y Gasset.

“Here, you have to manage your own time,” Marina said. “Here, you choose when you have to play, when you want to practice and how much you want to practice.”

Marina traded the comfort of European golf courses for taking her game to the next level. Pursuing a college education while playing a sport is not a possibility in Spain, but it’s a step she knew she had to take since she first picked up a golf club at six years old.

“The golf courses are different, like, they’re longer here,” Marina said. “And I see them tougher compared to what’s in Spain.”

But Olivencia knew Marina was built to compete among the best.

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Word traveled fast, and after earning Marta’s approval, Olivencia sent Marina an email to indicate Florida’s interest while she competed beside two Gators at the British Ladies Amateur Championship in late June 2018.

An excited Marina was shy and initially kept the email to herself, but Marta mentioned the contact to the new recruit in anticipation — a gesture reflective of Spanish culture.

“I thought she was quiet, but I’m also three years older than her,” Marta said. “In Spain, our culture is kind of like you respect older people a lot; so you don’t really talk to them that much.” 

In August 2018, Olivencia and head coach Glaser traveled to Northern Ireland to watch the recruit play at a cold and windy R&A Girls Amateur Championship.

“In tough conditions… it didn’t matter what was up front,” Olivencia said. “It does not faze her. She is up for the challenge every single time she tees it up, and that’s always something fun to watch.”

That day, Olivencia and Glaser earned Marina’s verbal commitment, and three months later, she signed her letter of intent to the UF women’s golf program.

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Marta struggled in her transition to life in the United States and knew she’d have to pay it forward in bringing in Marina.

At the start of the fall semester in 2019, the senior and freshman both arrived before their fellow Europeans and used the opportunity to bond over back-to-school shopping, where she got to know another side of the shy Marina — her wit.

“She’s very sarcastic, which is something that I feel like in America is not super popular,” Marta said.

Sharing cultural norms from back home with the freshman is something Marta said makes a huge difference in making Gainesville feel like home.

But Spanish heritage isn’t the only thing the two share. They share the same horoscope sign — Scorpio — and have bonded on lunch dates, a trip to Universal Studios and memorable lifetime moments, like Marta’s 21st birthday.

Marta has not only served as a mentor in the transition to college life, but of course, college golf. Her mentee is no stranger to team environments, but playing for the pride of Spain versus a university on the other side of the Atlantic are two entirely different landscapes.

“At the college level, everything is more serious,” Marina said. “You see junior players, senior players that are almost done with college, they are preparing for their professional life.”

That’s high praise coming from a golfer who’s led Spain’s U18 rankings and taken her country among Europe’s best in the European Girls Team Championship.

But despite only playing in four collegiate tournaments, the freshman is well acclimated to her new territory. She shot two under par in her first competitive round for the Gators, a round she said helped her realize she was able to compete at an elite level.

“She just doesn’t look like she’s a first year at Florida,” Olivencia said.

It’s guidance from Olivencia, whose first language is also Spanish, that aided in the freshman’s growth.

“It’s always fun to be able to talk to them (Marina and Marta) in their language and when we’re at the golf course,” Olivencia said. “It makes them feel at ease and it brings them back home.”

Marina and Olivencia quickly connected, with the coach’s sense of humor bringing them closer.

“Janice is someone you always want to have around you,” Marina said. “She’s always making fun and jokes.”

***

The fall slate was a warm-up to the real test for the Florida women’s golf program, with the results in the spring playing a major factor in their 2020 postseason fate.

With a chance at becoming a regular in the Gators’ lineup, fall was only the beginning for Marina. And with Marta by her side for the senior’s final semester, Marina has the right guidance to help lead the way.

The senior captioned words of encouragement in an Instagram post of the two ahead of the freshman’s first semester: “Respira y se valiente que ya llego tu momento pequena. Lo mejor esta por llegar.”

“Breathe and be brave, for your little moment has arrived. The best is yet to come.”

Follow Jordan Perez on Twitter @jrdnprz. Contact her at [email protected]