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In four months, Mito Pereira has gone from Korn Ferry Tour grinder to Olympic medal contender

It was late March and Chile’s Mito Pereira was just another grinder on the Korn Ferry Tour. In his three starts in 2021, he’d gone 64-MC-MC. Just turning 26 and falling to 359th in the World Ranking, he had to wonder if his career was moving forward or backward.

Four months late, Pereira has his answer. The native of Chile is a newly minted member of the PGA Tour who finds himself contending for a medal through 36 holes of the Olympics in Tokyo.

Golf is a crazy game.

A second-round 65 at Kasumigaseki Country Club moved Pereira into a tie for third place at eight-under total when play was suspended for weather, three shots back of Xander Schauffele. Pereira made three birdies on his front nine along with hole out a bunker shot for an eagle on the drivable par-4 sixth hole, then carded two more birdies coming in.

“I'm in the great position, great tournament, great event,” Pereira said, “so just try to enjoy a little bit where I'm standing.”

His solid play in Japan continues an impressive run since that turning point in late March. Pereira made the cut in his next nine KFT events, with five top-10 finishes. Back-to-back victories in early June, combined with his KFT win in early 2020, earned him an automatic promotion to the PGA Tour.

After a missed cut in his first PGA Tour start at the Rocket Mortgage Classic, he had a T-34 at the John Deere Classic before a T-5 and T-6 in his last two starts, the Barbasol Championship and 3M Open. He’s now 118th in the World Ranking, a career best.

So what’s changed?

“More than confident, it's more like believing in yourself that you can do it,” Pereira said. “Obviously you get three wins on the Korn Ferry it's not easy and then a couple tour starts to get top five and top six in PGA Tour events, it's a big deal for me. Like you never know if you can do it or not. So, I mean, I'm in a good place right now and just trying to enjoy it as much as I can.”

Maintaining that confidence could be a challenge over the weekend, the pressure of what’s at stake increasing. Golf is a niche sport in Chile, but the rise Pereira’s countryman, Joaquin Niemann, on the international scene has given it a bit of a spark. If Pereira could stay in the mix at the Olympics, that could only infuse more interest back home.

“I think people in Chile are trying to get more involved in golf,” Pereira said. “It's a small country for golf, it's not very popular and I hope this helps and try to grow the game a little bit more and be more accessible for everybody.”