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Emiliano Grillo hopes tour success resonates back home

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Emiliano Grillo excited for his first Masters (2:57)

Emiliano Grillo explains to Michael Collins what it felt like to qualify for The Masters and possible play practice rounds with Jordan Spieth and Angel Cabrera. (2:57)

DORAL, Fla. -- Within minutes of winning for the first time on the PGA Tour, Emiliano Grillo checked his phone and saw congratulations already coming his way. There was one that immediately stood out: Jordan Spieth.

The two-time major champion who had just completed a player-of-the-year season was happy to see one of his junior rivals win the Frys.com Open last fall, tweeting his appreciation while also mentioning Justin Thomas, Patrick Rodgers and Daniel Berger.

"Cool seeing the 11s always playing great," Spieth wrote.

The reference was to the year 2011, when the star golfers all graduated from high school in the United States.

Grillo attended the IMG Academy in Brandeton, Florida, having decided to leave his native Argentina to pursue golf greatness. He still lives in the area and practices at the IMG golf complex, the schooling there having already paid off with a full exemption on the PGA Tour and aspirations for more.

And getting a shout out from Spieth was just further confirmation.

"Jordan of course is way higher than me," Grillo said prior to the WGC-Cadillac Championship, his second World Golf Championship start. "He's got five, six wins already and two majors. That's where we'd all like to be. I can compare myself more to Justin. He's been on tour for two years already and he's also got a victory.

"It's nice to see what they are doing. It's good for me as well. I can try to do what they are doing, especially Jordan. He is No. 1 on the planet and he is my age. I don't think there is a better example for me. It's nice to see what he's doing, and I always knew if I could beat these guys in the junior ranks then I can beat everybody. And that is how I keep thinking now."

Grillo, 23, won his first event as a member of the PGA Tour when he defeated Kevin Na in a sudden-death playoff at the Frys tournament in October. That came just two weeks after winning the Web.com Tour Championship, where he secured his status on the PGA Tour for the 2015-16 season.

Unlike Spieth (University of Texas), Thomas (Alabama) and Berger (Florida State), Grillo did not attend college. While they continued playing amateur golf, he turned pro in 2011 and toiled on the European Tour, where in 2015 he qualified for the circuit's Final Series and made it to the season-ending DP World Championship in Dubai, where he tied for fourth.

But none of that got him into the Masters. Winning the Frys.com event is what secured his first trip to Augusta National, a place he has never visited but hopes to check out in the coming weeks prior to the year's first major championship.

"To my eyes, it is the biggest tournament," Grillo said. I'm really looking forward to get there. I thought I would wait and see it for the first time when it is time for the tournament, but I think the smartest thing to do is go there and get to know as much as I can about it.

"Every time you say the Masters I will smile."

Grillo said he hopes to secure a practice round with countryman Angel Cabrera, who won the 2009 Masters in a playoff and lost in 2013 in a playoff to Adam Scott. "It just seems like a place where he turns it on when he's there," Grillo said.

While Cabrera is clearly a player he looks up to, Jose Coceres is more of an idol. Coceres, 52, won twice on the European Tour and PGA Tour. Along with another Argentine golfer, Fabian Gomez, that is the player whose counsel they seek the most.

"They've been here for a long time, and it's nice to play practice rounds and hang out with them," Grillo said. "I've known Fabian for a long time, he's from the same city where I grew up playing [Resistencia, Argentina]. And we both look up to Jose, we have sort of been under his umbrella. It's nice to have that."

Golf has been slow to develop in Argentina, with most of the successful pros coming to the game through caddying. (The country has less than 300 courses; Florida, alone, has more than 1,400.)

"Not that many people follow golf back at home," he said. "It's getting better. I think everybody is doing the job of trying to raise the popularity and getting more people involved. I think we're on the right path. Hopefully we can get more players to join the game, especially little kids and young people who can try to do this. I know there are a few good guys out there on the Web.com and hopefully they can join us."

Grillo managed to find his way to the IMG Academy at age 16 in 2008 and stayed there for three years. And he was not even 20 when he turned pro. Getting through the European Tour qualifying tournament and gaining experience there has been a big part of his early success, he said.

Last year, while a full-time member of the European Tour, Grillo also managed to get in seven PGA Tour events, including the Puerto Rico Open -- which was played the same week as Doral. He missed a 3-footer on the final hole that cost him a victory, relegating him to a playoff won by Alex Cjeka.

But the money earned in those limited events helped him get a place in the Web.com finals. From there, he finished ninth, tied for second, missed a cut and then won the final event.

And then he won again, amazingly, in his first tour start.

Since that victory, Grillo -- who is ranked 36th in the world -- has made nine worldwide starts, with his best a tie for fourth in Dubai. He has gotten off to a slow start in 2016, playing five events, with his best a tie for 18th at the limited-field Hyundai Tournament of Champions.

"I enjoyed the wind and then took a little time off and came back a little rusty," Grillo said. "Now I'm trying to get to that point where I was playing last year. I know how hard the tour is so I need to get back to good practice so I can get back to where I was. I'm working at it."