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Golfer Miguel Tabuena: 'I've Always Put Pressure on Myself to Perform'

Get to know the country’s highest-ranked golfer.
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Miguel Tabuena is a familiar name in local sports. The 26-year-old has won numerous awards as a golfer and is today one of the top-ranked local players in the sport. He represented the Philippines in the Olympics in Rio De Janeiro in 2016 and was named Sportsman of the Year by the Philippine Sportswriters Association that same year.

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It was Tabuena’s parents, particularly his father Luigi, that instilled in him the interest and passion for the sport. The younger Tabuena first picked up a golf club at the tender age of five.

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“I fell in love with the sport because I used to watch the tapes over and over with my parents as a baby,” he says. “They love golf, and that rubbed off on me. Then, when I started competing, my parents knew that I enjoyed the competition and just continued to encourage me.” 

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Going pro

It wasn't long before Tabuena started joined amateur competitions and represenating the Philippines in tournaments abroad. He decided to go professional in 2011, when he was 17. 

“I’m so proud to be able to put the Philippines on the world map when it comes to golf, along with other amazing Filipino golfers,” he says. “Then of course, when I turned pro, it was a whole new world. I started to see that it could be something I could do to make a good living.

“I think it was the fact that golf just came so natural to me,” he says about pursuing golf as a career. 

It was because he started playing golf at such a young age that he’s learned how to become competitive. He admits to being hard on himself whenever he lost, but says he has since learned how to be graceful in defeat.

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“My mom always says, ‘I’m more concerned about your character than your game,’” he says. “So, with this platform that I have as an athlete, I hope to be that kind of example—humble in victory, gracious in defeat.”

After turning pro, Tabuena competed in various tournaments in the golf circuit, but it wasn’t until 2015 when he won his first Asian Tour title: the Philippine Open. He was the first Filipino to win the trophy since 2008.

“I will always remember my first professional win,” he says. “It gave me another level of confidence, knowing that I was doing things right and allowing me to see that I was at that level in my game. Maiden victories also open the door a bit wider to the possibilities of multiple wins. They give you a boost in morale and I guess just in general; that you can keep on winning.” 

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“I have always put pressure on myself to perform,” he adds. “Sometimes it has cost me big tournaments. But, you live and learn. I know I am built for this, and I know if I keep at it the wins will come. I suppose I love the pressure because it helps assure me that I am in the right place. What’s a win without the pressure?”

Constant improvement

These days, Tabuena has been sidelined, just like many other sportsmen, because of the postponement of sports activities due to the coronavirus pandemic. But that doesn’t mean he’s not working to improve himself. The golf pro says he still finds time to practice regularly on the golf course and at the driving range. He also works with his coach, J3 Altea, to help analyze his numbers to see what he can improve on.

“Physically, I have put a lot of effort into my fitness, especially during this pandemic,” he says. “I had a lot of time to focus on strengthening this aspect of my game, something so needed but easily overlooked.

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Other than that, Tabuena says he’s constantly working on staying confident that he can compete with the world’s best. Unlike team sports, golf is really just one person competing against others so there’s really no one to rely on other than yourself.

“The game I have on a certain day depends very much on the preparation I have put in,” he says. “I’m blessed to have a team around me that help keep me in check—from my family, my coach J3, fitness coach, Bernice Atienza of Pinnacle Performance, and nutritionist, coach Jeaneth Aro. With their help, I can come into a tournament confident, believing I can win, and I can set my eyes on even higher goals.” 

Tabuena’s laser-sharp focus, innate talent, and quiet confidence are just some of the qualities that led him to be named the latest brand ambassador for luxury car brand Lexus. The golfer says it’s a good fit, and yet another confidence booster.

“It’s humbling to see that they believe in me enough to represent them,” he says about the brand. “I know it’s a good fit because they value quiet performance and quality. It’s almost like you don't have to say anything—the car speaks for itself. This has always been something I wanted in my game; something my parents always tell me: let your game speak for itself. This eliminates the temptation to try too hard to make things work. If I prepare well, remain focused and quietly confident, the wins will come.”

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As one of the country’s top bets in golf, and still just pretty much starting his career, Tabuena is in a unique position to further promote the sport to more Filipinos and garner more accolades for his country in the years ahead. His passion for the game is evident in the focus and hard work he puts in even when there’s an extended break from competitions due to the health crisis. But even outside of the sport, he says there are learnings that he applies to his everyday life.

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“That I am not perfect, and I will never be. And that’s okay. Every day brings a chance to learn how to be better and hone my skills as a golfer, just as every day we are given opportunities to be better people. On the golf course, not every shot is perfect. But you tee it up on the next hole and keep on going. Just like life, it’s not always smooth sailing, but you pick up the pieces and keep on going.” 

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