Steven Rojas is a sophomore on the Cavalier golf team. He attended the University of St. Gallen last year in his native country of Switzerland. This spring he has a pair of top-five finishes and leads UVa with a 73.17 stroke average. The Cavaliers play at NC State April 11-13 before heading to the ACC Championships April 18-20.
Question: You have really picked up your game this spring, including a pair of top-10 finishes in your first two tournaments. What do you attribute that to?
Rojas: I’ve practiced a lot. Last summer when I came over, I had not played that much in the summer in Switzerland because I was studying and had exams. The first two months after I came over here I was picking up a lot of my game again. Last semester, I did not play that well, but I’ve had two good tournaments this semester.
Question: What part of your game do you feel you have improved the most this season?
Rojas: I would say my putting has become a lot better. It was usually my weakness and it probably still is, but it has become better. Now, I can actually hole more birdie putts.
Question: How long could you play in Switzerland?
Rojas: The golf season in Switzerland goes from April to the end of September, so it is basically six months. Those other six months, you can hit balls, but you can’t play. It has been an advantage to come here and be able to play on normal greens in January.
Question: Did you play any sports in Switzerland during the winter?
Rojas: I played ice hockey for 12 years.
Question: Who is your favorite hockey player?
Rojas: At the moment, Alexander Ovechkin for the Capitals. I went up to see him play last semester.
Question: The first semester of college can be a challenge for any student. You transferred from a European College (St. Gallen). How was the transition for you?
Rojas: For golf, the first month I did not practice very much because I had to get everything organized and I was struggling a bit with my English in school. It has become better now, so it is not as hard now.
Question: You speak English without much trouble. How was it a problem?
Rojas: When you are writing a paper, and every word counts; sometimes a specific word, I wasn’t really sure what it meant. That was hard.
Question: How does college life in the States compare to Europe?
Rojas: I attended the University of St. Gallen. It was a commerce school. It is completely different. Here, everybody lives on campus. In Switzerland, you go to college, but everybody goes home or where they live at night. Everybody lives in the city, but not all together at the college. It is more of a community here. It is a lot more fun over here. I get to meet a lot more people and have a lot more friends. Here you have studies, but you also have a little bit more of a life and you can do things with the other students. I do think the studies are a bit easier over here.
Question: Do you have a favorite college sport besides golf?
Rojas: Probably basketball. Football is a lot fun of course, but basketball, the arena is smaller and everybody is closer together. I would say those two sports.
Question: You were born in Australia, your father is from Colombia and your mom is from Switzerland. How many languages can you speak?
Rojas: With my father I speak Spanish and with my mother I speak Swiss or German. In school I learned German and French and English and I lived in Brazil for three years so I speak Portuguese. I have citizenship in Australia and Switzerland.
Question: The team was third at Florida State and won the Palmas Del Mar Collegiate in Puerto Rico, how disappointing was it to not keep that roll going at Arizona?
Rojas: We were disappointed, but that is how golf is. We prepared well for the tournament, we just didn’t play well.
Question: Was that the first time you played a desert course?
Rojas: I had never played one before. It really wasn’t much different. The ball flies a lot further, so that was kind of difficult to figure out the yardages to the hole how far it actually plays. Besides that it was nice. I actually like it. I liked Tucson, it was very nice.
Question: Did you see any rattlesnakes?
Rojas: No, that was a bit of a disappointment.
Question: What are your thoughts heading into next week’s tournament at NC State?
Rojas: This is one of our last shots to play well if we want to make it to regionals. It will be a really important tournament. We really want to play in the regional.
Question: What will you do this summer?
Rojas: I’m going back to Europe and will play a lot of international tournaments.
Question: Do you have a favorite place on Grounds?
Rojas: The Rotunda, the front side.
Question: Before you arrived at Virginia, did you know of Thomas Jefferson?
Rojas: Oh yes, I knew of him.
Question: Growing up in Switzerland, you were required to serve in the Swiss Army. When did you do that?
Rojas: It was for six months in the winter of 2006 to 2007.
Question: Did they really issue you a Swiss Army knife?
Rojas: Yes they did. But it is steel, not plastic like the ones you can buy. Ours were made of steel.
Question: Did it have many tools?
Rojas: Not that many, just the basic ones.
Question: What did you enjoy most of your experience in the Army?
Rojas: The fact that when you come back you enjoy everything a lot more. Your own bed, sleep and good food.
Question: Is it true among the things you did in training was fire a bazooka?
Rojas: They gave us, I guess you would call it a fake, but it was not a real bazooka. We carried it around for three weeks during training. We practiced a lot and then we had one shot with a real bazooka, but the shell did not have explosives in it. We shot at a picture of a tank. It was a paper target. What I remember most was that it was really loud and I hit it.
Question: Have you ever hit a golf shot like a bazooka?
Rojas: No (laughs).
Question: What have you found you enjoyed most about playing collegiate golf?
Rojas: We are all really good players and that is a big difference for me because I was practicing on my own at home before. Now, I can see how good I am playing because I can see how the other guys play. That helps me to improve certain parts of my game.
Question: In college you also play as a team, not just an individual?
Rojas: Yes. It helps me to focus a lot more on the course because I know that every shot counts not only for me but for everybody on the team.
Question: Does the practice ever get monotonous?
Rojas: I enjoy coming out here everyday and working on the things to make me better.
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A 1985 graduate of UVA, White worked at the Richmond Times-Dispatch until July 2009. He was honored six times as the state's Sportswriter of the Year.
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