DEAN ROJAS: GOLF CADDY
Story by Matt Pangrac - Golf photos courtesy of Dean Rojas
Lake Havasu, AZ – Dean Rojas spent the majority of the past week in full tournament mode. Instead of sporting his standard blue embroidered Dickies shorts and tournament jersey, Rojas donned a pair of black slacks, a collared shirt, and golf cleats.
The two-time Elite Series champion caddied for his youngest son, 10-year-old Austin, in the Antigua Southwest PGA Junior Championship in Arizona. After finishing the first day of competition in a tie for first place, Austin finished the tournament in third place in the Boys 9-10 age division.
“Going through qualifying, the parents weren’t allowed to caddie,” explained Rojas. “When I found out that we could caddy in this tournament, I knew that it would be a really cool experience for both of us.
“One of the things that they really emphasize is not to over-coach your child,” continued Rojas. “I know from experience how valuable it can be to learn from your own mistakes, so even though I wanted to help him, there were several times where I just had to stand back and let him make a mistake so he could learn what he needed to do in the future.”
It was the mental aspect to the game where Rojas believes he helped Austin the most. The wisdom that he imparted to his son throughout the week leading up to the tournament and during the competition was learned the hard way as Rojas climbed the ladder in his own tournament fishing career during the 1990s and early 2000s.
When it comes to mastering the mental game in an individual sport, Rojas has a vast amount of personal experience. “In tournament fishing, there are going to be times when you lose a four-pounder at a critical point,” he explained. “If you don’t know how to deal with a setback like that, one little occurrence can set the tone for the rest of the day and create a negative whirlwind that you can’t get out of.
“I really tried to help him focus ahead and forget the bad holes. You have to be able to leave all the negative feelings at the last hole and move on to the next one. It’s really just like fishing. When you have a bad day, you have to learn from it and move on and realize that the next day is brand new and has unlimited possibilities,” he explained.
Rojas said that as he walked alongside Austin on the golf course, he could relate to the emotional swings that he was experiencing. “When he would hit a good drive or a good shot, he’d do a fist pump and you could feel his excitement and adrenaline rush. That’s something that we’ve all felt before,” said Rojas, who competed on the Crawford High School golf team in San Diego, where he grew up.
“We’ve fished some team tournaments together this past year on Lake Havasu, and I told him that preparing for this golf tournament was just like preparing for a fishing tournament. Once he understood that, all he wanted to do was practice.”
Going For the Green
Ultimately, Rojas’ advice to his young son revolved around a single word – confidence.
“People who are involved in individual sports, like golf or tournament fishing, really have to learn to rely on themselves. It’s all on you. I really tried to help him with that and teach him the aspects of relying on himself and believing in himself. I told him that you can’t let anybody tell you that you won’t succeed or that you can’t do something. You really have to believe deep down that you can do it.
“You can never be afraid of competing, whether it’s on the golf course, on the lake, or in life. When you feel like you need to go for it, you go for it. If you don’t, you’ll never be as good as you could be. There were several times when we were walking down the fairway and he looked up at me and said, ‘Dad, I’m going for the green.’ He gave himself a chance to win because he went for it.”
Rojas said that he can look back on his career as a professional angler and pinpoint the exact moment that he decided to “go for the green.” It was a decision and a mindset that continues to define who he is today as an angler.
On January 17th, 2001, Rojas set the single day record, weighing a five bass limit for 45 pounds, 2 ounces on the first day of competition in the Bassmaster Lake Toho Top 150 event. “That was the day that I just said, ‘The heck with it, I’m going for it.’ I had nothing to lose because I was way down in the points and I had everything to gain,” he remembered.
“It was a defining moment in my life and career where I made the decision to go out and make things happen rather than sit back and let things happen."
Rojas hasn’t changed his approach to fishing since that day. “People love to watch other people ‘go for it’ when the norm is to just lay up or just catch a limit. People love come-backs and people love to see spectacular things. When you are able to do that, the more fulfillment you have and the more belief that you have in yourself.
“Yes, there will be failures when you approach anything with that mentality,” he continued. “There are going to be times that you crash and burn – really hard. If you have a safety net behind you, there’s no reason not to try. Early in my career, I could never really ‘go for it’ because I had to cash checks in order to survive. I had to lower my expectations in order to make it to the next tournament. That tournament on Lake Toho in 2001 created a safety net for me going forward.”
The 18th Hole
“I’m fishing better now than I ever have in my career, and I’m making good decisions. All I can do is stay focused and keep plugging away,” said Rojas, who sits in 10th place in the Toyota Tundra Angler Of the Year standings with one tournament remaining in the 2012 Elite Series season on New York’s Oneida Lake – a fishery where he tasted victory in 2008.
He will enter that tournament with the same ‘go for it’ mentality that he has approached the past decade with. “My main goal is to win Oneida and put myself in position to move up to eighth in the points and qualify for the All-Star event,” he explained. “Regardless of where I finish at Oneida, I have nothing to lose and I’ll be going for it. I’m looking forward to battling it out.”
Note: Rojas added a special thanks to Louis at Oakley for supplying Austin and the family with golf apparel for the championship tournament. “I just called and asked if he could send two shirts for Austin to wear during the tournament, and he ended up sending an entire box with everything from hats to socks,” said Rojas.