Masters 2022: Aaron Jarvis looks to lift the island that first lifted him

GEORGE TOWN, Cayman Islands – “Nice putt, Aaron!

This may read as a compliment, but it is not. Big brother commentary on the course rarely is. For the second time on the front nine, 19-year-old Aaron Jarvis left a feasible one-footed putt on the slick, not-so-fast greens of the golf course that helped elevate them: North Sound Golf Club, the only 18 – hole in the country.

Andrew Jarvis, 23, is the one doing the most hills, as usual. In addition to me, our fourth, Payten Wight, 27, also joins in from time to time. In a good mood, of course. Moreover, the child can handle it.

Aaron makes no aggressive response. He just wears the smile of someone who loves the game so much that nothing anyone says can dampen his enthusiasm. The warm, breezy March morning on the west side of Grand Cayman Island matches the laid-back vibe of the English Channel perfectly.

And the fun is just beginning. The young Caymanian prospect has earned the opportunity to do something no one from his country of 72,000 people and just 27 holes of golf has done before: compete in the Masters and the Open Championship.

In January, Jarvis came back from three shots to the head from 54 holes to win the Latin American Amateur Championship, an event that in just seven years has energized the populations of competitive golfers in major regional countries like Argentina and Mexico, as well as smaller and lesser-known nations like the Cayman Islands.

If you are a competitive golfer from this part of the world, the importance of LAAC is hard to overestimate. In just seven years, he has given thousands of people a clearer idea than ever of a potential path to professional golf. And its initial alumni showed tremendous promise. Witness Chilean Joaquin Niemann, who won the 2018 LAAC and now has two PGA Tour victories to his credit, including the 2022 Genesis Invitational.

As well as making national sporting history, Aaron Jarvis is the first native of any Caribbean country to win the LAAC. In addition to his two major league starts, he will be exempt from final qualifying for the 2022 US Open.

LR: Andrew Jarvis, Payten Wight and Aaron Jarvis

Preparation, focus and joy are part of Aaron Jarvis’ golf makeup

The first trait to notice about Jarvis is a sense of stability and maturity beyond his 19 years. He’s thoughtful, well-spoken, and has an island accent — think Jamaican, mixed in with Southern California beats — that makes his voice easy to remember. But the exuberance that comes from being a talented young athlete from a place most consider paradise is also undeniable. So does the effortless power of 320+ yards from its spindly frame, a must-have for any budding pro these days.

Talking with him throughout our tour revealed a distinct lack of pretension and a full awareness that he has a lot to learn. I asked where his game needed the most work. “For me, it’s always been hitting the ball, consistency,” he said. “I know how to score pretty well, even when I’m not hitting well.”

What was it like when the enormity of his LAAC victory – and all that comes with it – dawned on him? “It was crazy,” he said. “All the text messages I received – took me about two weeks to respond to everyone.”

Jarvis’ official master’s invitation arrived at his parents’ home in the Cayman Islands, so he had to wait a few more weeks to see it in person. He sums up this moment with an understatement suited to his personality: “It’s pretty cute.”

A freshman on the University of Nevada-Las Vegas golf team, Jarvis is eager to learn from alumni who play the game at the highest level. “He’s so cool,” Jarvis says of former UNLV star Ryan Moore, who he recently hung out with at Shadow Creek, the Runnin’ Rebels home course.

Jarvis asked Moore for advice on handling the weight of pressure from the masters for the first time. “He said to me, ‘Don’t let the whole environment distract you; go out there and always play your game and do your thing,” Jarvis said. “He’s so relaxed all the time, so it was a really good connection that we had, which we hope we can build on in the future.”

Jarvis is also eager to learn from former UNLV player and 2013 Masters champion Adam Scott, hopefully on a practice round.

“The TV doesn’t do him justice,” Jarvis said of his first impressions of Augusta National Golf Club, where he had time to do a few rehearsals before the Masters. “The change in elevation and the way the greens are angled is crazy, so it’s going to be pretty cool.”

Pretty cool. Jarvis’ coldness, even in anticipation of such a big moment, speaks to his humility.

Another sign: his desire to pay tribute to those around him for their role in his success.

It seems unlikely, to say the least, that the Cayman Islands could produce a player capable of competing with the best young golfers in countries like Mexico and Argentina. But Jarvis isn’t the only top fan to hail from this paradise. This is where the secret lies.

A small but emerging golf powerhouse

“They had the Caribbean Junior Championships here in 2013 at the time, and my brother [Andrew] was playing. My dad was like, ‘Come and watch,’ and I saw my brother play, and that’s how I got into the game,” Jarvis said.

“From there the older guys like Payten and some of the guys on the men’s team [national] The team just brought me. Having fun with these guys here made me love the game, and from there I started to improve and take it more seriously.

“They beat me most of the time, which almost fueled me and gave me a goal to work towards and gave me some fire to burn. They gave me extra motivation to improve every day.

Elite golfers don’t just appear out of nowhere – not in a place like this. It takes passion and commitment from members of the golf community to create the conditions for talent to flourish.

One such figure is Paul Woodhouse, a Scottish-born who has split his time between St. Andrews and Grand Cayman for 20 years. He is past president and current board member of the Cayman Islands Golf Association.

Woodhouse said the current wave of strong Caymanian golfers dates back to 2013, when North Sound hosted the Caribbean Junior Championships. He helped start a junior program.

“They were tiny, they hadn’t played much, and we were doing the Caribbean Junior Championships and we didn’t really have a team,” Woodhouse said. “So they started from scratch, and within about six or nine months they were playing decent golf, good enough to get on the course. They acquitted themselves well, and at From there it just grew and grew.

A lifelong golfer himself, Woodhouse knows the game has a lot to offer beyond potential fame and fortune. “Golf is a passport to life,” he said, “and that’s exactly what we’ve seen, especially more recently with Aaron. The opportunity now available to him thanks to many hard work is fantastic.

Ollie Wilding is the head pro at the nine-hole Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, located next to North Sound. It is the only other golf course in the Cayman Islands outside of North Sound. Hailing from Curacao in the southern Caribbean, Wilding is an accomplished player in his own right, having played professionally across the region before being named head pro in places like Acapulco, Mexico and, since just before the pandemic, at Grand Cayman.

Gregarious and outgoing, Wilding is full of stories and a master at telling them. He also simply loves the game. A minute in his presence is enough to see how popular he is with the young golfers on the island, whom he loves to mentor and support.

“You want to create lifelong golfers and people who play the game,” Wilding said. “But then if you’re lucky, like the Cayman Islands have been very lucky,” a player like Aaron Jarvis comes along and helps spread the word about the game and his country at the same time, he said. “For a population of 72,000, there’s a lot of talent in golf.”

“Paul [Woodhouse] was the driving force behind the development of more junior golf,” Wilding said. “Now we have the wave of Aaron’s success that we need to build on, work on, and that will create the next wave.”

The likes of Woodhouse, Wilding and others squeezed every drop of support potential out of the Cayman Islands golf team, and their young proteges responded. Payten Wight is at the start of the recent competitive golf boom in the country. He played college golf in the United States at Saint Leo University near Tampa, Fla., and leads all Caymanian golfers in LAAC appearances with four. He won the Cayman Islands Championship twice.

Hon. Kenneth Bryan, Grand Cayman Islands Minister of Tourism and Aaron Jarvis

Andrew Jarvis holds the competitive course record of 64 in North Sound, and his own debut appearance in the Latin American Amateur Championship in 2016 inspired Aaron along his own journey in competitive golf.

Andrew recalls Aaron’s telling reaction to his record-breaking lap in 2019. “I went and shot 64 in the first round and I was leading Aaron by six,” he said. But Aaron responded on the second day. “He was a behind after ten holes. That’s when he scared me a little. I was like ‘He can’t beat me now.'”

Andrew held off a charge from his younger brother that year and repeated the feat in 2022 for his third Island Championship title. Aaron will have to wait until 2023 to get his first, although Masters and Open Championship appearances will forever give him bragging rights.

Justin Hastings is Aaron’s age and a freshman golfer at San Diego State. Hastings has his own piece of Cayman golf history: in 2018, he became both the youngest player to compete in the LAAC and the youngest to make the cut. When Aaron won this year’s event, Justin broke into the top 25, marking the first time the two Caymanians on the court had played all four rounds.

And there are more Caymanian players coming. Lanky 14-year-old Danny Lyne finished third in the Cayman Islands Championship behind the Jarvis and also looks set to have a bright future.

If you want to improve at something, it helps to have fierce competition that you constantly want to beat. It helps even more when these players are your close friends, equally willing to help each other.

Andrew Jarvis, Payten Wight and others will travel from the Cayman Islands to Augusta to cheer on Aaron. No matter what he shoots, he will have planted a new flag on the world golf stage.