Chilean pro golfer Hugo Leon wears Tigers hat on tour

Hugo Leon competes on the European Tour wearing a Detroit Tigers cap.

PRAGUE, Czech Republic — Hugo Leon hovered around the top of the Czech Masters leaderboard striking the ball solidly for four consecutive days, all the while sporting an Old English D traditional Tigers cap.

One might wonder why a journeyman pro golfer born in Santiago, Chile, and living in Florida is supporting a baseball team from Detroit as he competes on the European Tour.

Leon, 34, had his first taste of baseball while attending Southeastern Louisiana on a golf scholarship. His fanaticism then grew when moving to Florida after graduation. But it wasn’t until seeing a 2012 Tigers-Orioles game that the Chilean golfer truly caught baseball fever.

“The very first time I watched a baseball game in a baseball town where everybody was really into it was Comerica Park,” Leon said after his final round at the Czech Masters tournament, shooting 14-under and tying for fifth place.

“We were playing a tournament in Windsor. I went to the game and it just blew my mind. I fell in love with the atmosphere, the stadium and especially Jimmy Leyland, the manager. If I ever had to draw what a baseball manager looks like, Jimmy was it for me.

“It was the best team I’ve possibly ever seen play.”

Leon entered Sunday’s final round well in contention, just two shots off the lead. A pair of bogeys on the back nine resulted in a closing round 72; however, the tied-for-fifth finish was his best result this season.

The globetrotting golfer has played on the South American, Canadian and Asian Tours, and qualified for the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. Since securing his European Tour card in 2018, Leon has teed off at events in Australia, Oman, Qatar, Kenya, Morocco, China, England, Denmark, Belgium, Germany, Spain and the Czech Republic. Having turned pro in 2007, Leon has two career victories, both on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada, in 2011 and 2013.

Still, sponsors have been tough to come by for Leon.

“Taylor Made for years was the brand that I played with, but I was never offered anything substantial,” Leon said.

Without a sponsor obligation, he’s proudly worn a Tigers cap at tournaments for nearly four years now. He even won while wearing it at an event in Chile.

“I love the team, I love the game, so I feel this is the most fitting hat that I can wear,” Leon said. “The Detroit Tigers are my favorite team in all the sports that I follow.

“I didn’t grow up watching baseball. In Chile, baseball is very rare.”

Follow Leon for a round or two, and one quickly realizes that he isn’t your typical golf pro. He putts crouching in as wide a stance as seems possible, frequently darts from green to tee to speed up play and often lines up putts with a cigarette in mouth. The Old English D cap adds to his colorful persona.

“I like being myself out there. I like to wear the clothes I like to wear. I like to wear the hat, play my way and think my way.

“I am proud of who I am and the hat is part of it, so I don’t think it will be coming off anytime soon.”

Despite his hectic tournament schedule and commitment to his craft, Leon hopes to attend more Tigers games. He last visited Comerica Park in 2015, when he played a Tour event in Cleveland. During travels on the Canadian Tour, he frequently plotted strategy to land in Detroit, although most often times and logistics didn’t pan out.

Spring-training games throughout Florida have also afforded Leon opportunities to cheer for his favorite team. He looks forward to seeing games in Lakeland next season.

But Leon — who was born in December 1984, less than two months after the Tigers won their last title — experienced his greatest Tigers moment at an opening-day game against the Marlins a few years back. He swiftly made the two-hour drive from Jupiter to Miami to see the ballgame.

“I bought the most expensive ticket that I felt like I could buy and was right next to first base,” Leon said. “Miguel Cabrera threw a ball and I caught it.

“It is one of my most precious memorabilia items from many sports that I have in my house.”

Leon wouldn’t mind a few more golf trophies to accompany that ball from Cabrera.

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