PANAMA CITY, Panama – Alejandro Tosti has personality to spare. Every story, every sentence, comes with a force of passion, an air of performance. He has a talent for drawing others in, even total strangers.
It’s of little surprise then that the 20-year-old Argentinian has a propensity for making new friends, strangely, and particularly, at the airport.
“I just start talking to people. I just meet people,” he says, throwing his hands in the air. “I meet people. It’s crazy.”
In Dec. 2015, Tosti was at Miami International waiting for a flight to the Dominican Republican for a practice round at Casa de Campo, site of last year’s Latin America Amateur Championship.
The problem was, as Leroy Christie explains it 13 months later: “The flight got delayed. And they kept pushing it back, and pushing it back, and pushing it back.”
It was a delay that lasted five hours, and so Tosti decided to make some friends.
“They were wearing golf hats, I think,” Tosti says, trying to remember. Everyone vaguely recollects him needing a phone charger, but ultimately, “It was golf," Tosti knows. "Golf brought us together.”
Christie, 62, and Denny Cummings, 55, were waiting for that same flight to the Dominican. Both of them from Jamaica, Cummings originally knew Christie’s brother, but became friends with Leroy when Leroy moved to the United States in 1987.
Almost 30 years later, they met Tosti at the airport, and Cummings decided, at least for that day: “We’re going to be your U.S. parents.”
The trio waited out the delay together, even though Christie and Cummings didn’t need to. The airline attempted to put them on an earlier flight, but they wouldn’t go. They wouldn’t leave Tosti.
“They started splitting us up,” Christie said on Thursday at Panama Golf Club. “And they’re trying to put us on the first flight, and I said, ‘Oh no, he (Tosti) is coming with us. He’s coming on our flight.'”
And so they waited, for five hours, and formed a friendship that has extended from Miami, to the Dominican Republic, to New York (where Cummings lives), to Arizona (where Christie lives), to the University of Florida (where Tosti plays for the Gators), to Buenos Aires, Argentina (where Tosti grew up), and finally this week to Panama City, for this year’s LAAC. The three say they talk on WhatsApp almost every day, mostly sharing jokes.
And when it came time for Cummings and Christie to decide where to take their next golf trip, the Wednesday of the LAAC just happened to fall on Cummings’ birthday. Even better, Cummings, who’s been coming to Panama to play golf for the last seven years or so, is friends with a local hotel manager, who told him: “Denny, if you’re coming down for your birthday, there’s a tournament, and we’ll hook you guys up.”
And that’s how Cummings and Christie wound up outside the scoring area Thursday, waiting for Tosti to emerge after a disappointing first-round 74. When he finally did, he immediately went over to his friends, gave them a hug and thanked them for coming.
(From left to right: Denny Cummings, Alejandro Tosti, and Leroy Christie)
Asked how it felt to have them in his corner this week, Tosti answered: “It’s just something crazy. I’ve been meeting a lot of people. And with them, it was just crazy. Our flight got delayed, we met … and now we’re here.”
Christie and Cummings walked the back nine with Tosti on Thursday, reading his putts from afar and silently begging him to play his birdie putt on 18 a ball outside the right (he didn’t). They arrived at the course in the afternoon after a round of their own in the morning.
“We got lost coming here,” Cummings admits.
“We didn’t get lost,” Christie insists.
“Yeah, we kind of got lost,” Cummings says again.
And that’s the dynamic: They’re just two golf maniacs.
“We’re just maniacs, yeah,” Cummings agrees. “In fact, we just saw Dottie Pepper on the golf course and we were like, ‘Hey, DP!’ She turned around, and she was probably like, ‘Who the hell knows me down here?'”
Their biggest problem this week? “We’re upset right now with [the hotel],” Cummings says. “They don’t have Golf Channel.”
As for Tosti himself, he decided at age 6 that he wanted to play golf after watching the game on TV. At first, he was using a barbecue stick and a deodorant ball for equipment. By age 8, with his parents working and unable to drive him, Tosti was walking seven blocks to a bus stop and taking an hour-long ride to the golf course, by himself.
“The stories that he tells me about his struggles in Argentina, that stuff should go in a book,” Christie says.
“Natural sacrifice,” Tosti says without hestitation. “I loved the sport. I was just doing it. … At the time, I couldn’t see that I’d be here today or at the University of Florida, or traveling every two weeks. I was supposed to study, just as my brother and my father, to be an engineer. At 8 years old, I was to be an engineer.”
Instead, Tosti’s passion for the game eventually took him to the United States. At 15, he took his parents to the U.S. for the first time when the Argentine Golf Association paid for their trip to Palm Beach, Fla., so that Tosti could play in a junior tournament.
“My parents had never been to the United States, and all of a sudden their son was getting a free flight,” Tosti says, “and they … they couldn’t believe it.”
Tosti was runner-up at the inaugural LAAC in 2015 and third last year. A pre-tournament favorite to possibly take the title this year, he was able to play 13 holes at Panama Golf Club on Christmas Day, when he accidentally booked himself a six-hour layover in Panama City. At first, he was furious he booked the wrong flight, but then he took advantage of the opportunity, taking a taxi from the airport to the golf course and back to airport.
Unfortunately, once tournament play began, Tosti got off to an awful start, playing his first three holes 5 over and taking his shoes off to play from the water on No. 1. He went on to post an opening 74, but unlike last year when he went 75-65, Tosti followed up this time with another 74 to just barely make the cut.
The fiery college junior has a tendency to run hot on the golf course and to let his passions take hold of him. He said earlier this week, before play started, that he’s trying hard to remain calm and to keep things in perspective.
“I just come to this week way different than the last two,” Tosti told reporters Wednesday. “My goals are not short-term, so it’s just one more time to have experience and keep growing up.”
Tosti intends to turn professional at some point, but he’s in no rush, waiting instead “for that right moment," whenever it may come. In the meantime, he has a year and a half of remaining collegiate eligibility.
He’s also recently made friends with a NetJets pilot who routinely flies some the PGA Tour’s biggest stars, including, Tosti says, Tiger Woods. Asked how he made that connection, Tosti answers: "I just started talking."
Tosti also has a girlfriend who’s training to be a pilot. “Maybe one day we’ll be flying around the world,” he says, smiling wide.
As for his friends, Denny and Leroy, their futures appear set. Late Thursday afternoon, they asked where the 2018 LAAC was being played. Just hours earlier, tournament officials announced that they were next headed for Santiago, Chile.
“Oh, Chile?” Cummings said with excitement, as Christie let out a, “Wow. … Wow.”
“Well, we’re going,” Christie followed. “We’re going, man. We’re going.”