Toto Gana’s first semester of college has not exactly been par for the course.
Just days before he moved to the United States, started classes at Lynn and officially joined the Division II Fighting Knights men’s golf team in January, the native Chilean celebrated a breakout performance in the Latin America Amateur Championship, which catapulted him into the international spotlight. Gana was ranked 285th in the world heading into the golf championship and came out on top, earning himself a ticket to the most storied golf tournament of them all.
Today, the Lynn freshman will begin play at Augusta National Golf Club in the 81st edition of the Masters Tournament.
He joins more than 90 world-class professional and amateur golfers in Augusta, Georgia. Competitors include one other NCAA student-athlete, Brad Dalke, an Oklahoma sophomore who paved his way to the major with a runner-up finish in August at the 2016 U.S. Amateur Championship.
While a Division I golfer in the Masters is not unheard of, the feat is much more rare in Division II. “In general, I think it’s a great thing for NCAA Division II that Toto has qualified for the Masters,” says Lynn men’s golf coach Andrew Danna, who also had three other student-athletes compete in the Latin America Amateur Championship on Jan. 15. “I think it raises the overall competitiveness and profile of Division II men’s golf.”
Gana has been a Fighting Knight for only three months, but he’s already eager to showcase his school pride. He plans to wear Lynn’s blue and white on golf’s biggest stage. “I want to wear Lynn clothes because I feel so comfortable at Lynn,” says Gana. “It’s like my home now.”
Despite the fanfare, Gana is determined to treat this week’s competition like any other. That even-keeled approach is a key factor in his success, according to Danna. “He has a good way of being consistent in his mindset going into each event,” the coach says. “It’s going to be something he’s never experienced before with the crowds, the media, some of the best players in the world. But that’s one of the reasons he’s there — he’s able to stay level-headed.”
His calm confidence was on full display at the Latin American championship, when Gana watched his lead vanish with two holes to go, landing him in a three-man sudden-death playoff with his best friend and fifth-ranked Joaquin Niemann, also of Chile, and Alvaro Ortiz of Mexico. Gana finished with a birdie on the second playoff hole to win. “Two days ago, I was nobody,” he told reporters after his victory in Panama.
Along with a trip to the Masters, Gana earned exemptions into the U.S. Amateur and British Amateur, as well as exemptions into final-stage qualifying for the U.S. Open and British Open.
Gana has plenty to focus on in the meantime. The last few months have been packed with change, driven by his move from Santiago, Chile, to Boca Raton, Florida, and the inevitable transitions of freshman year. He is adjusting to new classes in his nonnative language, with a plan to major in international business.
He made his college golf debut in February and hopes to help the Knights bring home their first Division II golf championship, scheduled for May 22-26 at Reunion Resort in Kissimmee, Florida.
As for the Masters, Gana says he’s ready. “I am a little bit excited about the week,” he admits, “But I am not nervous.”