Getting A Taste Of The Big Time
"The first thing everybody told me was, 'You need to introduce yourself to Mr. Nicklaus,' " Ortiz said. "I was getting my stuff ready, trying to find my locker, when I turned around and Mr. Nicklaus was right there."
Ortiz thought he got past the star-struck phase of being around tour players when he visited the Players earlier in May as a guest of Sergio Garcia through their agent Carlos Rodriguez. For example, when Jordan Spieth introduced himself on the putting green at Memorial, it wasn't like Ortiz was lost for words.
"Seeing those guys on TV, they're like superheroes. Then you stand behind them, and they're not even that tall," he said. "Then you see them hit the ball and you realize, 'I can do what they're doing.' ''
Seeing the iconic Nicklaus for the first time was another matter. Ortiz "got scared" and walked away, before collecting himself. "I didn't know what to do, so I went to my locker, and he was there again," Ortiz said. "I said, 'Come on, Carlos, man up and just go talk to him.' "
At 23, the baby-faced Ortiz has been manning up on the Web.com Tour all year. With wins at the Panama Claro Championship and the El Bosque Mexico Championship, he is one victory from getting a battlefield promotion and a guaranteed PGA Tour card. His performance at the Memorial on a Captains Club exemption reflected both the inexperience and the potential, as he nervously shot 75 in the opening round then fearlessly putted his way to a 68 to make the cut.
Ortiz's weekend was just as erratic with six birdies, eight bogeys and a double bogey for rounds of 76-72 and a T-65 finish. What gave him a shot of confidence going into his June 2 sectional qualifier for the U.S. Open was the closing birdie he made from nine feet above the hole at 18. "We pretended we were in the last group on Sunday needing to make birdie to win the tournament," Ortiz said. "It didn't matter anymore, so we went right at it. It was pretty cool."
Ortiz comes from Guadalajara CC, the same place that produced Lorena Ochoa. A year ago he was finishing his last semester of international studies at North Texas, the only Division I school that offered him a scholarship. He ended up going to the finals of both the Web.com Tour and European Tour Q schools last fall. "I don't know any college coach who saw this coming," said Brad Stracke, Ortiz's coach at UNT.
Ortiz didn't. He won three college tournaments his sophomore year, including the Sun Belt Conference title and the William Tucker Intercollegiate hosted by New Mexico. That was it. Asked the difference between that and dominating the Web.com Tour in categories like earnings, scoring average and the all-around statistical category, he said: "maturity."
During practice rounds at Muirfield Village, he impressed Gonzalo Fernández-Castaño more with the way he handled himself than his game. "Nothing spectacular," Fernández-Castaño said. "Having won twice on the Web.com, I was expecting 'Wow,' but not really. I think he's a nice steady player. What I see is what I see in all the young kids nowadays coming on tour. They're so mature for their age."
Ortiz does come across older than his age or his looks. Part of his worldliness traces to attending a golf boarding school in Germany when he was 12. Instead of rock or rap, he listens to the Piano Guys renditions of classical music while warming up because it gives him rhythm. Stracke describes Ortiz as both funny and intellectual. "He sees things other kids don't see," said the coach.
Making the trek from Guadalajara to Muirfield Village for his debut were Ortiz's parents, Chela and Carlos; brothers Alvaro, 18, and Alejandro, 20; and nephew Ricardo, 16. Alvaro is heading to Arkansas in the fall to play on the golf team. Alejandro, according to Carlos, is the brains in the family.
They provided a support group not only on the course but also away from it. Early in the week the boys went to see action thrillers "Godzilla" and "X-Men: Days of Future Past."
"They're not the best movies," Ortiz admitted. "We just laugh at them."
Also part of the group was Chema Sanchez, an assistant with Santiago Casado, coach of the Mexican national team and the only swing teacher Ortiz ever had. "He's doing fine managing his expectations, I can see that," Sanchez said. "He's talked to Lorena. He's talked to Sergio. He's going to learn and, believe me, this is not going to be the last time he's playing here."
After a final-round 72 at last month's South Georgia Classic dashed his hopes of winning an immediate card after just eight Web.com Tour events, he grasped the wisdom Garcia had imparted: Heartache is part of the game.
There was no heartache when the family sat down for lunch after Carlos' round on Sunday. He came early and stayed late. "Considering it was my first tour event, not being used to the pressure, I think I did a good job," he said. "Honestly, I wanted to do a better job."
For the second time this season, Jason Allred has gone from "off the charts" to a lucrative payday in one of golf's premier events. In February, Allred Monday qualified for the Northern Trust Open and finished T-3 at Riviera. On Sunday he shot 66 in the closing round of the Memorial to finish T-15 at Muirfield Village, upping his 2013-14 earnings to $508,227. "I can't even tell you what a surprise it was Saturday night before the tournament to get a call from the tournament director," Allred said of receiving an invitation to the Memorial. "But I also can't tell you how thrilled I was to have a chance." The 34-year-old speech communications major from Pepperdine started the season without exempt status on any tour and resorted to a letter-writing campaign that includes photographs of him in action at Riviera and with his child, born just after the Northern Trust. "If you sat me down at the start of the year and said this is what's going to happen, on one hand I would have thought you were crazy," Allred said. "But at the same time, all along, I've believed in my ability to do this."
With his third straight top-10 on yet another distinctively different course, Brendon Todd has more than backed up his first career victory at the HP Byron Nelson. The Georgia Tech grad finished T-5 at the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial and T-8 at the Memorial to become a threat in the upcoming U.S. Open. Todd likes his chances because his short game has been so strong during this stretch. For the year he ranks seventh in scrambling and eighth in strokes gained/putting. "I'm excited about the U.S. Open," Todd said. "I think it should be fairly open and running off the tee, which sets up really good for me. And then the best short game is going to win. That's been me over the last three weeks."