Family tragedy puts golf in perspective for Puerto Rico's Max Alverio
LA ROMANA, Dominican Republic — Max Alverio was proud of himself as he walked outside the clubhouse at Casa de Campo late Friday afternoon. A second-round 74 on the Teeth of the Dog course, after an opening 69, was good enough to tie him for 14th place, the best position the 33-year-old from Puerto Rico had been in in his three appearances at the Latin America Amateur Championship.
“I got off to a slow start, but it was a little different experience being around the lead in this tournament,” Alverio said of his round. “I was just trying to stay focused, and I think I hung in there pretty well.”
Staying focused and hanging in there have taken on new meaning for Alverio since last November. Set to go to New Jersey the Wednesday before Thanksgiving to visit his family for the first time in more than a year, Alverio got a call that Monday that his older brother, Michael, had unexpectedly died at 38 after suffering a severe asthma attack. Alverio switched his flight to Tuesday, but before getting to the U.S., his father, also named Michael, who had been battling Alzheimer’s, passed away, too, at 72.
“He died in his sleep, and for that I’m happy,” Alverio said. “[But] I wish I made it there [to see him].”
Golf quickly became an afterthought upon returning to Puerto Rico as Alverio tried to come to grips with the tragic turn of events. “I was just trying to get back to life, and get back in my routine,” he said. He eventually resumed his day job, working as a sales rep for Sports Group Golf, which handles accounts in the Caribbean for the Acushnet Company, parent of Titleist and FootJoy. Roughly a month later, he decided it was time to get back on the course.
Prior to all this, Alverio had been looking forward to the LAAC since qualifying for the event last fall. The former college golfer at Alabama had played the previous two years, but this time around his game seemed to be in the best shape it had been since he got his amateur status reinstated in 2015. He’d finished runner-up at the Caribbean Amateur last summer and competed for the fifth time for Puerto Rico in the World Amateur Team Championship in September.
He eased his way into competition by playing in a pair of professional stroke-play series events in Puerto Rico, one of which also served as a qualifier for the PGA Tour’s Puerto Rico Open, finishing third and 13th.
“I felt good to be playing again, but tournament golf was different,” Alverio said. “It was good to get back into the routine. I’ve got things in order now. I’m in a good place.”
This, sadly, isn’t the first time Alverio has arrived at the LAAC having had his preparation disrupted by real-world events. Before the 2018 tournament in Chile, Alverio had been trying to recover after his house was destroyed by Hurricane Maria the previous fall.
“He’s been through a lot,” said Sidney Wolf, president of the Puerto Rico Golf Association as well as Alverio’s boss at Sports Group. “I think getting a chance to play here has been good for him. It’s let him think about some positives.”
Alverio is moving on, thanks to the support of friends and family. He talks to his mother in New Jersey almost every day. The two help keep each other’s spirits up.
A solid finish at Casa de Campo wouldn’t hurt either. But Alverio knows it’s just golf. It’s only a game, one that with the right perspective can provide him some joy and, hopefully, ease some of his pain.