Brookings Harbor graduate Fernando Lira was never really a fan of golf. Up until high school, his only exposure to the sport was on TV and, as Lira puts it: “It was just super boring to watch.”
That all changed, however, when his classmate Kyle Gordin brought him out to the golf course one day for an impromptu round of golf his freshman year. A crash course introduction to the game and nine holes later, Lira was hooked.
For Lira, that day was the impetus for a four-year prep career in golf that will continue at the collegiate level at Pacific University next month.
“Being an NCAA athlete never (crossed my mind) and to this day, it’s striking — in August, I start playing (Division III golf),” Lira said. “It’s crazy; it’s an unfathomable experience and opportunity.”
Perhaps more striking than Lira’s prospective collegiate career, however, is the fact that he took up golf at all.
“I never pictured myself playing golf, I never aspired to play golf,” Lira said.
Lira had grown up playing soccer his entire life, as his father started him the moment he could kick a ball. Moreover, golf was one of the least popular sports at Brookings-Harbor high at the time — during his freshman year, the team only had enough members for a seven-player varsity squad.
“We didn’t have a junior varsity team,” he said. “It was a very scarce population of people who played. Golf wasn’t really a sport that was appealing to anyone. It was difficult. People would go out and try it and get frustrated.”
Whereas others were put off by the difficulty of golf, Lira was attracted by it. The fact that one couldn’t rely on teammates like you could in soccer only made golf that much more appealing to him.
“What intrigued me was the challenging aspect of it, and it kept me going, and it continues to drive me to keep playing and improve my game,” he said. “Golf is a sport where every little part of your game has to be right. All of it, not just one, every single thing about it, and all of it is a mental game.”
Although he continued playing soccer alongside golf during his prep career, his love for soccer plummeted during his junior year.
“There’s nothing fun about it,” Lira said. “I kind of lost my love for it. I don’t know if it’s cause my parents surrounded me into it so much, or I just never wanted to be better at it. I don’t know, and I will never know just because it’s starting to fade away.”
At the same time his interest in golf waned, Lira’s passion for golf only continued to swell. On school days, Lira spent up to three hours a day practicing after classes ended, and on Saturdays he would drive up to Bandon for five-hour private lessons.
Initially, his parents were not receptive to the notion of Lira playing golf, but they eventually gave their support after seeing his love and devotion to the game.
“My dad always told me that sometimes you can try it, if you don’t try it, you’ll never know. But if you do figure it out, and you see you’re not succeeding in it, don’t do it,” Lira said. “Don’t waste your time, and that’s the mentality my parents have.”
Fortunately, Lira’s efforts bore fruit on the competitive Oregon Junior Golf Association circuit, where he took home multiple top-five finishes. Soon enough, calls from college coaches started coming.
“That’s when my mind started getting blown that I’m actually fairly decent,” Lira said. “It’s worked out. All the hard work has actually paid off. Hopefully it continues to thrive.
Lira’s work ethic has also been recognized by the Ford Foundation, which awards scholarships to candidates who demonstrate “an understanding of the value of work, taking responsibility, giving back and helping others.” His success however, is not just a testament to his own diligence but that of his parents, who had the courage to move from Mexico to Oregon for a better life nearly three decades ago.
“My parents have a very heavy influence on my life, like anyone’s life,” Lira said. “(Now) I can understand their life story when they were my age trying to come to the states and get a life for their family. They would try to tell me this when I was younger, but I wasn’t there mentally.
“Now I’m like ‘Whoa, it all makes sense.’ It’s the American Dream, it’s the betterment of a family, and that’s what you strive for, that’s what they try to do.”
When Lira begins his journey at Pacific University next month, he will not only be tackling the next chapter of his own life, but continuing the legacy of the American Dream set by his parents— a challenge for which he is more than excited.
“Life isn’t scary for me, I’ve seen many things. I’ve been to Third-World countries, I know what that’s like, I know what it feels like to have nothing,” Lira said. “It’s just a constant battle, it’s a journey I’m excited for. I’m ready, I’m prepared; I don’t know what there is later on in life, but I know it’s exciting and I’m ready.”