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Toto Gana and Brad Dalke Discuss Their Upcoming Masters Appearances and College Golf

Toto Gana and Brad Dalke are collegiate golfers who will be competing in the 2017 Masters Tournament. Gana, a native of Chile, earned his invitation to the Masters by winning the Latin America Amateur Championship in January. Shortly after the tournament, he moved to the U.S. to attend Lynn University and compete for their golf team. He has played in three tournaments so far for the Fighting Knights.

Joining him at Augusta National will be Brad Dalke. A sophomore golfer for the University of Oklahoma, Dalke helped the Sooners to match play for the first time in school history at last year’s NCAA National Championships. He earned his invitation with a runner-up finish at the 2016 U.S. Amateur Championship in August.

We talked with both of these rising stars to see how they are preparing for the Masters and all of the tradition that comes with it.

Lynn Freshman Toto Gana:

Q: Take me through your experience at the Latin America Amateur Championship and describe how you felt after winning in such a dramatic fashion.

I went into the championship against some top-ranked players from Latin America, including a few of my good friends. I was happy to play with my friend because we cheered for each other. My swing coach caddied for my friend, but I saw him cheering for me as well. I prepared like I always do. I worked on my short game, my approach, and then I played well. I had a bogey earlier on in the final round, but I stayed focused like my coach taught me to. I stayed focused throughout and managed to come up with a great shot in the playoff to help get the victory.

It was like a dream. I went from nobody to somebody who can play in the Masters in a matter of five days.

Q: You just recently started your career at Lynn University, what have been the biggest adjustments that you have had to make coming to the U.S., playing collegiate golf, and going to school at Lynn?

A big change is studying English. I have less time to practice during the week, but we have more tournaments and travel. Lynn feels like home though, and I am comfortable here. My teammates are like family—we are always together. And my coach, he’s a good coach. One big difference is the conditions here in South Florida. There is a lot of wind sometimes so that is an adjustment from my home country.

Q: How has collegiate golf been different from your past amateur experiences?

It feels like more of a team effort in college golf. You play for yourself but more importantly you want to play well for your teammates and coach. It’s a great experience and so much fun to travel with the guys. Coach does a great job of making it a fun experience for all of us.

Q: Talk to us about how competing as a team with Lynn is different than competing as an individual.

My team is like a family, and Coach Danna is very good. He helps us to be prepared for each of the courses we play, explains a lot, and supports each of us. It is a team effort. We support each other a lot on the golf course, at practice, and away at tournaments.

Q: How are you balancing your school work, playing for Lynn, and preparing for the Masters in eleven days?

I have to go to class and complete my assignments. Outside of class I eat well, I work out, and I practice. I love to practice my short game. I think it will be very beneficial to me come next week at Augusta. Coach Danna and I have talked about what to expect at Augusta, and he has given me some great advice on how to prepare in regards to rest, course preparation, and staying focused on my game.

Q: What does it mean to you to be able to represent Lynn University and Chile in an event as special as the Masters?

Lynn University is my home away from Chile, and my team is like my family here in the States. I know everyone in Chile will be watching because the Masters is one of the most important events to us back home. I hope to make them proud with my performance at the Masters.

Q: Traditionally, the Masters amateurs stay in the Crow’s Nest at Augusta, are you excited to stay in a place with such a legendary history?

Yes, it feels amazing. Everything about August National is perfect … the grass, the trees, the people. It’s where the best of the best have played. I hope to meet Rory McIlroy, Adam Scott, and Phil Mickelson.

Oklahoma Sophomore Brad Dalke:

Q: I understand that you have played Augusta National before, tell us about the course, how you think it fits your game, and what adjustments you might make heading into the tournament.

I have gotten the chance to go round Augusta National eight times now and every round is just as awesome as the first time I played it two and a half years ago. The way I see the course is that you need to do two things really well, hit solid iron shots with good distance control, and putt, especially speed on the putts. There are spots around the greens that are absolutely dead, and hitting irons in the correct parts of the green and not short-siding yourself is key. Putting is huge because sometimes you can be on the green and still have a very tough putt to judge with all the slope. You have to be very creative and have great speed to play well out there. I think the course fits my game really well because I am a very good iron player and all of the tee shots seem to fit my eye. I have told some people that I feel very comfortable out there, and that is definitely the truth. I haven’t made any crazy adjustments in my game. I have just been trying to get better at every aspect of the game that I can.

Q: How are you balancing your school work, playing for the University of Oklahoma, and preparing for the Masters in eleven days?

It has been tough to balance all of the things that I have going on this semester, but I have been managing it really well. My school work has been tough to manage ever since I got to college because of all of the travelling we do, so it really hasn’t been too different than it has been the last three semesters. Getting my game better has taken up a lot of my time. To be honest, I was not at a good spot this last December. I had gotten a little lazy with my practice and it showed in my game. I committed to have a better practice regimen this semester and it has shown. I have not had fantastic finishes in my tournaments so far this semester, but I know that my game is at a way better spot than it was four months ago. I am just waiting for when I put a few great rounds together and win a tournament, and I feel like the flood gates will bust open. I am close, it is just a matter of time.

Q: What experiences and lessons from your time playing for OU will be the most helpful to you in the Masters?

Being able to practice at the Charlie Coe Golf Center has helped me a lot. We have one of the best facilities in college golf, and it is such a great place to practice. You can hit any shot you want there and with all of the different shots you can run into at Augusta, I feel more prepared than I would practicing anywhere else. I also believe I have been able to evaluate my game better with the help of Coach Hybl and Coach Garren. They see me play every day, so I can always learn from their constructive criticism to help get better.

Q: Have you received advice from any former Sooners or Coach Hybl about playing in the Masters? If so, what did they tell you?

Hunter Haas gave me some great advice about the course. He played in the Masters after winning the Public Links, so he was obviously a great person to get advice from. He told me that he worked so hard on putting on fast greens and chipping off of into-the-grain lies, but it’s just not the same as it is at Augusta. I just need to prepare my best around the greens and on the greens in the tournament practice rounds because that will be most like the tournament conditions. Even then, he said that the course plays much different on Thursday than it does on Monday, so adjusting to those conditions is a huge key.

Q: What does it mean to you to be able to represent the OU in the Masters?

It means so much to represent the University of Oklahoma at the Masters. OU had been my dream school for as long as I can remember, and the fact that I can represent this great school and state on the biggest stage is something that I will always remember. I hope I can bring some Sooner Magic with me to Augusta, Georgia, and I know every Sooner watching will be rooting for me. That is such a cool feeling and it gives me chills knowing that I have so many people behind me.

Q: Traditionally, the Masters amateurs stay in the Crow’s Nest at Augusta, are you excited to stay in a place with such a legendary history?

Most amateurs only stay at the Crow’s Nest two or three nights, but I will be staying there all week. It will be so much fun staying in the clubhouse of the course I have dreamed of playing on ever since I was little. Knowing that I will be staying in the same place as all of the legendary golfers that have stayed in the Crow’s Nest is a cool feeling. Honestly, I am just so excited about the whole experience of having access to anything I want. There will probably be a few nights where I just go sit outside looking down at the 9 and 18 greens to soak it all in.