Contrarian by Nature: How Self-Love Got Me Here
Jordan Perez joins The Fire Pit Collective
I took a good hard look at myself in the mirror today. My mental mirror. Actually, I’ve been doing that every day for probably the past week. Trying to gather up whatever profoundness I could about the 24 years I’ve lived, in a way that abates fake deep-ness.
Maybe it’s hard because I spent so many years turned away from that mental mirror.
I’m here to be honest with you and myself, about me. How I arrived here, typing this origins story, is probably the most unexpected thing for various reasons. If you would have told me at 14 that I’d be doing this—introducing myself for a golf media company—I would have asked what happened to the pop-punk band I was supposed to start.
Well, that never happened and Warped Tour is defunct anyway, so you’re welcome.
You know the phrase, You were born to stand out, not to fit in? The one that dons Pinterest boards everywhere in THAT font? I ran with that a little too hard when I was a kid. My identity was built on the obscurities of anime, Pokemon, video games, and, oh yeah, I was a minority growing up in a white community. Yes, I was a contrarian by nature, but as a kid I embraced that clash to cover up a lot of insecurity.
I played sports briefly as a kid but was always the de facto benchwarmer. I was happy to be there for the snacks. My worst moment? Playing catcher in softball and plunking the batter directly in front of me while trying to return the ball to the pitcher. Or that time I scored in my own team’s lacrosse goal. That was my career-ending play. Golf never really came up. My dad had a bag of clubs he probably used once every other year when I was younger and have since disappeared.
Away from sports, I just liked what I liked and kind of ran with it. Femininity wasn’t something that occurred to me for a really long time. By the time I was in middle school, all I cared about was making Pokemon music videos, my classic rock bands (and later, those Warped Tour ones) and waiting for new episodes of whatever given anime I was obsessed with at the time. I knew what my interests were but I was deeply, deeply insecure. Maintaining solid friendships was tough through grade school.
(At this point, you’re probably confused about why this isn’t about golf. I’m almost there, I promise.)
English was always my favorite class, and I lived for writing no matter the circumstance. I used to come up with fictional stories as a kid, devising storylines for whatever anime sketches or plain randomness I felt like coming up with at the time. I reached high school and eventually had to…uh…think about the next step. I really wanted to avoid the whole college thing for a while, mostly because I had no idea how any of that was meant to work. I was a first-generation college student with no sense of how to navigate much of anything. My mother and father grew up in Miami, both children of Cuban immigrants who fled from the revolution. My parents took various jobs before my dad’s entrepreneurial endeavors entered copy services and eventually the HR space, while my mom worked in mortgages before my younger brother came into the picture.
By my teenage years, I had taken a slight interest in the whole sports thing again. That started with some Miami Dolphins fandom that I quickly learned was bad for my sanity. (I’ve since distanced myself but can never let go). Then the guy I had once seen on a first grade Valentine’s Day card, LeBron James, decided to take his talents to South Beach and my investment grew even further.
The height of my Miami Heat obsession extended past the LeBron era, but dang, those years were fun. I remember sitting on the edge of my bed when Ray Allen’s Game 6 3-pointer changed the course of basketball history. Storybook moments like that deepened my interest in the world around me. By the time I was 16, I realized there wasn’t a whole lot I cared about besides the NBA and the only thing I was good at was writing. Sports journalism started sounding better and better as high school went on.
I graduated and played N’SYNC’s Bye Bye Bye on a loop while getting ready for whatever the world had in store. I was ready to leave my cookie-cutter suburb for… the University of North Florida, a whopping 45 minutes away!
You could say I was pretty risk-averse. I never went to sleep-away camp. Hardly had sleepovers as a kid, by way of overprotective parents. But dorms were required in my freshman year of college, and sure enough, I was on my way. Of course, I did return to my parents’ house nearly every weekend. I said it was to do laundry but there was more to it than that.
My comfort zone was starting to get awfully confining. The school I attended didn’t have the strongest sports journalism program, or really, one at all. It was a giant commuter school that lacked community, and by the time I finished my first semester, I realized I needed to gameplan for something a little bit bigger.
I started looking into a school that I never could have gotten into coming out of high school—the University of Florida—and set my sights on transferring there. On the surface, Florida was everything I didn’t want: a Southern school in the middle of nowhere. My hometown was saturated with alumni who were homogenous and basic, which I despised. But I was ready to throw myself into the fold of being the odd one out if it meant properly chasing my dreams, and, oh yeah, getting rid of that social anxiety and deep-rooted insecurity that got in the way of literally everything.
But during the transfer process golf unexpectedly came into my life. A family friend reached out, knowing my interest in sports media. She had taken up a job with the PGA Tour and said there was an opportunity in the digital media dept. and encouraged me to apply.
The brat in me laughed. Golf? GOLF? Who cares about that boring sport?! Not me. Why would I ever work in golf? How stodgy and slow. No thanks.
Luckily, I have parents who recognized it was a golden opportunity and they pretty much forced me to apply for the position, despite my protestations. I had a phone interview with my future boss while sitting in a mall parking lot and he asked me to name my favorite golfer. Scrambling for an answer that wasn’t Tiger Woods, I said Jordan Spieth only because we share the same name.
I got the job…and it changed my life.
For the next nine months before I headed off to UF, I spent most of my time logging and archiving PGA Tour Live footage. I can’t quantify how much golf I watched—I went back for another stint the summer after my junior year at UF—but it’s somewhere in the thousands of hours. In an open workspace surrounded by recent college graduates, we sat (or stood with elevated desks) side by side in a barrier-free hub. Tournaments old and new decorated computer monitors, with words beneath them describing each and every scene change. Did Dustin Johnson drive the ball 350 yards, hit his approach to 10 feet and bury the putt for eagle? Noted, noted, and noted, for whomever at the PGA Tour needed said footage for a sponsor or network feature.
I learned the difference between the cool kids, the new kids on the block, #SB2K, and the oldies. The electrifying emergence of Brooks captured me, as did the petulant rise of Bryson. Figures like these built narratives only comic books (or manga, in my particular case) could design. At the time, I didn’t even really care to learn about the fundamental details of golf outside of what my job necessitated. There was little that connected me to these players other than this job. I still didn’t have any interest in playing the game—all that mattered were the evolving storylines and successes, big or small, that I had to log.
I did feel like a fish out of water. I was one of the few Latinx in that building, but every time I plugged into my work station I was in my own little world, with the theater of the Tour unfolding in front of me. I never ran in the same circles as the kids in high school who would attend The Players but somehow I made golf my own space. And no one could take that away from me.
Entering my senior year at UF, I realized I hadn’t done as much writing as I’d hoped. You needed clips to get a writing job! I had a lot of catching up to do. I decided I’d start a golf beat for the school radio station covering the Gators men’s and women’s teams. What a blast that was. I slowly became enamored with this little secret world of college golf and all of its storylines. I slowly started finding myself spending more of my free time reading up on college golf coverage and not the pros. But there simply wasn’t enough of it.
My first big clip was a story about the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur, which will forever and always be my favorite event for a myriad of reasons. It was the birth of my writing career, but also a moment of true empowerment. A great mentor who believed in me, Eric Adelson—he wrote an awesome book on Michelle Wie, The Sure Thing—helped me get the story published, and the number it did on my confidence was astounding.
I navigated the rest of that year freelancing, and not just golf. But I reached a point where I realized my understanding of golf lacked the depth I desired. If I wanted to cover the game, I was going to need to firmly understand the mechanics behind it — even if none of my friends played, and even if I was super golf shy. (Ever heard of gym shy? Kind of the same thing!) I decided to take some lessons at UF’s home course, and, uh, I’ll leave it at that. I’m worse than the worst golfer you know but I can’t help but love the game, which proves how crazy it is.
I finished out my last semester of college working at the student newspaper and covering Florida football for the school radio station. All was going well. But the next stage of adulting was daunting. And a remark from a seasoned journalist laughing at me when I said I wanted a job in golf writing occupied a little too much space in my head.
I had nothing lined up. I spent three months job hunting to no avail, and then came the pandemic. My mental health was in one of the worst places it had ever been. At one point I wrote a note to myself saying, ”No one in this industry wants me.” That wasn’t even the worst of the self-talk. I sought therapy, hoping to unpack why I had attached so much of my self-worth to my career ambitions.
Eventually, I got my first post-college job, in e-commerce. That helped rid those feelings of worthlessness. But something important that I discovered along the way was the person beneath the job title. I had spent so much time beating myself up over not fitting in with my community or the interests of my friends or even the journalism program at Florida but that was okay. I was me. And I liked that person. For all of the risk-aversion instilled by my parents as a child, I grew up and learned to be unafraid to engage in what made me happy. That was reason enough to love myself, even if I wasn’t all the way there. I’m a contrarian by nature; I can’t help it.
I figured I’d take my little niche interest in college golf and start a podcast. Thanks to the encouragement of my boyfriend, I decided not to hold back and just say whatever was on my mind. Regardless of who wanted me there or who’d listen. Why not? If it amounted to anything, cool. And if it didn’t, just as cool. It was scary and freeing but I had to be me.
In March 2021, I got a DM from someone for whom I’d always had great respect and admiration: Alan Shipnuck. Wait, hold on. What? Yeah! He liked my work? Somehow? I sincerely thought I was tripping. I couldn’t believe someone actually took interest in my rambly podcast.
Months of conversations ensued, and here I am. The Fire Pit Collective actually wants me to cover golf for them. They appreciate that I don’t fit in, though it’s not by intention. I’m just here. I’m just me. I’m not a contrarian by intention. I just do my thing.
I love college and amateur golf. I also think there is so much work to be done in spotlighting the players. I love the people I’ve met on the beat and the tales I’ve gotten to tell. It’s what excites me. And I want to tell different kinds of stories. I hope you, the reader and listener, know that no matter who you are you are always welcome in the space. Don’t let the old rules or figures of authority tell you otherwise. It’s taken me a long time to learn that but I’m finally here.