Mito Pereira faced heartbreak. He joined LIV. One year later, he’s back at the PGA

Mito Pereira is back at the PGA Championship.

Mito Pereira is playing in his second PGA Championship this week — one year after a memorable debut.

Getty Images

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Mito Pereira and Joaquin Niemann strode up Oak Hill’s eighth fairway blissfully unaware of the circus forming behind them.

The King of Western New York, Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen, had just appeared by the seventh green with superstar teammate Von Miller by his side, whipping the gallery into a frenzy.

If Allen is the region’s King, Rory McIlroy is perhaps a distantly related Duke — his wife, Erica, grew up in the area. McIlroy was the golfer the two NFLers had come to see, not the pair of Chilean twentysomethings in the fairway ahead. Not that they realized.

“Who’s Josh Allen?” Pereira shrugged.

I first met Pereira in a practice round at last year’s PGA; he was a 27-year-old Chilean PGA Tour rookie with a bright future and an interesting story and had agreed to let me tag along. It turned into an unforgettable week for good and bad reasons.

Pereira’s first 71 holes at Southern Hills were straight from a dream. His 72nd was a nightmare come to life. He teed off with a one-shot lead and made double bogey to give up his lead and miss the playoff, too. Pereira had entered the week with no expectations. He left devastated with a third-place finish.

A year later, he’s still not quite sure why he played so well that week. He’d been injured in the weeks leading up to the PGA; maybe he’d entered with a head uncluttered by swing thoughts and a putter ready to get hot. He left with a whole new level of stardom and with plenty of new fans in spite of — or perhaps because of — his 18th-hole collapse. There were still more positives than negatives.

“That’s probably the biggest highlight of my career so far, for sure. A lot of people got to know me, my best finish in a major. It was kind of a turning point,” he said.

The world relived the heartbreak during Pereira’s episode on Full Swing, and the PGA finish combined with the Netflix exposure added up to a whole new level of fame.

“Guys tell me ‘hey, I watched you on Netflix,’ ‘hey, you were good on Netflix.’ That made a good impact on my career.”

There’s been no escaping memories from the PGA, for better and worse.

“I’d say it’s yeah, bittersweet,” he said. “Obviously finished third in a major, but I was leading for the most part. So it’s good but not just good memories. It was a big moment for me.”

He’d been with Niemann and Sebastian Munoz last year. During the practice round. In a rental house between rounds. After the heartbreak.

A year later they still play their practice rounds together. But the context of those rounds is decidedly different. Pereira, Niemann and Munoz returned to Tulsa, Okla. last week, just shy of Southern Hills’ one-year anniversary, to play the sixth event of LIV’s 2023 season. Niemann signed with the breakaway league at the conclusion of the 2022 PGA Tour season; Pereira and Munoz joined in early 2023. They’re three of the four members of Torque GC. Pereira finished T30 in Tulsa. He’s logged three top 10s in six starts, good for 12th place on LIV’s order of merit.

Last year it felt like we were seeing the very beginning of Pereira’s major championship career. This year? We’re wondering when he’ll get the chance to play another one. Eventually he’ll begin to slide down the world rankings; he’s clinging to World No. 56 right now thanks to some strong finishes on the Asian Tour and Japan Golf Tour. I suggested that it must have been a difficult decision, placing his major championship future in doubt for LIV. He shrugged that off.

Mito Pereira’s heartbreaking PGA finish doesn’t tell the full story
By: Dylan Dethier

“Being honest, it wasn’t that hard,” he said. “I mean, Joaquin was already there, so it was a pretty good opportunity for me. I knew what I was getting into; maybe I won’t play in any majors again, but I knew that before going. I still think it was the right option.”

What does he like about LIV? The convivial aspect, for sure — it’s fun to formalize the team-like environment he’d already cultivated with friends on the PGA Tour. An easier schedule is a nice perk, too.

“Less players means you don’t get three-hour practice rounds for nine holes,” he said, gesturing at Oak Hill’s front nine and its glacial pace of play.

He’s still been active in non-LIV worldwide play, teeing it up at the Dunlop Phoenix, the Saudi International, the International Series in Oman and the Masters since the beginning of the year. But Pereira — and Niemann — are examples of LIV pros caught in the limbo of LIV’s ongoing pursuit of world ranking points. That affects their future chances at playing majors, playing Presidents Cups and any number of other professional opportunities. Pereira seemed to take that in stride.

I was curious: now that he’s on a different side of the power struggle for golf’s future, is there anything he misses about his old tour?

“The one thing that I would say I miss about the PGA Tour is probably the courses,” he said. “They’ve been playing on them for a long time and they’re mostly all really good.”

Still, he was optimistic in assessing LIV’s chances, calling it a “pretty good product” that’s making improvements all the time.

“I still think it was the right option,” he said.

As for his chances this week? He liked Oak Hill. It’s a big course and Pereira is a big hitter. It’s a ball-striker’s ballpark and Pereira’s game is built around his iron play. He tees off Thursday afternoon alongside Russell Henley and Alex Smalley. This will be Pereira’s second career PGA Championship. It’s tough to imagine it’ll be as memorable as the first.

And it’s hard to know when he’ll be back.

Exit mobile version