Chances are few people know much about Carlos Franco, the PGA Tour player who is coming to the East Valley next month to do a charity tournament entitled "Beat Carlos Franco.’’
Often referred to as the "most underrated player in the world’’ by his peers on Tour, Franco is a national hero in Paraguay, a South American country that might be even more under the radar.
Why would Franco’s presence at Troon North on Oct. 11 be of interest to local golfers? Because
It’s not surprising given Paraguay’s position in world politics. But it was there on a Sunday afternoon that 430 people perished in a fast-moving fire that swept through an outdoor mall. The disaster, which became dire when the mall owners locked all the gates to keep people from looting, left 100 children dead and 132 orphaned.
"It happened right there in my neighborhood,’’ Franco said of the towering inferno, which started on the roof of a restaurant and spread to the parking lot, where 20-some cars exploded from the intense heat.
"Several of my friends had children who died in the fire. In terms of magnitude for our country, which is very small (6 million people) and very poor (average annual income: $3,300), it’s been like a September 11th.’’
With no social services in Paraguay to speak of, those 132 kids without parents have little or no future. But they do have a friend in Franco, who already has spent much of his earnings from the 2004 season to help the children get back some semblance of hope.
"Our goal is to build a home (orphanage) for those who survived,’’ Franco added. "It is a huge challenge, but an extremely important one if we are to overcome this tragedy.’’
So how did Franco end up bringing his cause to Scottsdale? Turns out he had a friend named Cynthia Hampton, a Paraguay native who had moved here 10 years ago. And Hampton had a friend named Donna Levy, and between the two women they organized "Beat Carlos Franco.’’
"Carlos asked me if we could do something to help raise money in any way,’’ Hampton said. "He said we have so many orphans, and the government is so poor, we need to do what we can to raise money for food, clothes and care, and to help get these kids an education.’’
And so Hampton and Levy created a 501(c) non-profit charitable organization, called Troon North and put together the tournament. Even though they have had some major expenses involved with that, like paying for the golf course, they hope to raise $20,000 or more.
"Our ultimate goal is to give at least 20 of these children a life that they would otherwise not have,’’ Hampton said. "Obviously, we’ve had to put everything together very fast, but anything we can do for them will be greatly appreciated.’’
Franco, Hampton and Levy can’t be expected to do it all. They need your help, and in that regard they are selling spots to play nine holes with Franco for $2,000 (a player), or just $375 to play in the tournament. Other sponsorships, or even donations, would be greatly appreciated. Call (602) 791-4944 or (602) 295-3454 or visit www.cfopy.com.
You might not know that much about Carlos Franco at this moment in time, but he is practicing what he preaches. He knows about poverty, having grown up in a one-room shack among a family of nine.
And he knows about perseverance, having learned to play the game by borrowing a set of clubs and using the balls he fished out of a water hazard at the local course in Asuncion.
Franco is only 5-foot-9 and 165 pounds, but obviously he has a huge heart. And to truly understand his place in the game, there is no better endorsement than the words of Mexico’s Esteban Toledo, who once said: "Carlos Franco and Nancy Lopez are the two greatest players in Latino golf.’’
So here is your chance to meet one of the world’s great golfers and human beings. And while you’re helping out 132 kids who really need it, you’ll also get a chance to "Beat Carlos Franco.’’
This mission is one of the more heartlifting, as well as heartbreaking, I’ve ever run across.
To fully understand the cause that created "Beat Carlos Franco,’’ some background is needed. It began on July 24, when Franco captured the PGA Tour event in Milwaukee — his fourth win on the PGA Tour and his 29th worldwide. He followed that performance the next week at the Buick Open, where he tied for third and jumped to 25th on the PGA Tour money list with $1.7 million.
But Oct. 1 also was a dark day in Franco’s beloved hometown of Asuncion, which experienced one of the most horrific tragedies in Paraguay’s history, which has been a bloody one filled with revolutions and brutal dictatorships.
Didn’t hear about the catastrophe in Paraguay?