Photo by J. Alan Paul Photography
La Coruña, Spain is known for its 187-foot lighthouse called the Roman Tower of Hercules. The ancient Romans who conquered Spain and built the tower in the second century believed La Coruña was the end of earth. Little did they know, 4,000 miles west there would be a university in North America where one of La Coruña’s residents would attend college. Ursinio Puga started his American story as an exchange student in Michigan and today it continues at North Dakota State University.
How new was the English language to you when you became an exchange student?
“I did take some classes in high school, just like you would do with your Spanish classes. But those first couple of weeks in Michigan I had no idea what was going on. I would just say yes to everything. I remember my teacher assigning something that was due on Thursday, and I would say ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah.’ But in my head I was like, ‘I have no clue what she is telling me to do.’”
You sound fluent now.
“I don’t think in Spanish anymore. People ask, ‘Do you still translate in your mind?’ I say I just speak. In fact, I’m at the point where I’m trying to say something in Spanish, but the English word is coming and I have to say ‘No, I’m not looking for that word, I’m looking for the Spanish word.’”
How did you end up at NDSU?
“Three months before school started; it was really late. I was going to some other place. But my sister played with Amy (Anderson) at Nationals and she said, ‘I played against someone from North Dakota State and I’ve never heard of that university before, but the coach (Matt Johnson) is pretty cool.’ I emailed Billy Iverson, the men’s coach, and I started talking to him and he told me to send him some information and video of my swing and everything. A week later he said I could be on their team. This was in May and application deadline was in three weeks. I already had signed up to go to school in Spain, because I didn’t know I was going to come here. I had a backup plan; I was in the civil engineering department back home. I had just graduated from high school. It was all in the matter of two weeks, which was pretty cool.”
Do you plan on going back to Spain after you graduate?
“I’m actually going to go to grad school here. I’ll be here for another two years.”
So you must like Fargo?
“It’s so cold (laughs). It’s definitely different because back home it’s a big city setup and I’m from a big city. I would say somewhere between Minneapolis and Fargo. Fargo at the beginning was small, but then you get used to it.”
Where did this passion for golf start?
“I was 3 years old. My sister was 6 at the time and she started golfing, so I would go with her to the driving range and hit three balls, then get bored and sit down or whatever a 3-year-old does. I didn’t start playing then, but I can say I hit my first ball when I was 3. I couldn’t tell you when I started playing on a regular basis. All I know is that I haven’t stopped playing. It’s something that I’ve always done.”
Your parents must play a lot.
“My dad does; my mom hates it, actually. She hates golf. She doesn’t have a bad swing, but she hates it. Even if there was a tournament and I told her, ‘I really want you to come. Follow me playing the round today.’ She says, ‘No, I hate it. I get too nervous.’ She has probably watched me play golf three times in her life. … She knows golf is so mental, so she can’t take the suffering of ‘He hit this bad shot, what is he thinking?’”