LA ROMANA, Dominican Republic — Alvaro Ortiz couldn’t walk very far around Casa de Campo Resort on Wednesday without somebody stopping him and offering a simple greeting: “Glad you made it.”
Each time, the 23-year-old from Mexico, a former college standout at Arkansas, responded with a sheepish smile. “Thanks. Me too.”
Ortiz will be playing for the fifth, and final time, in the Latin America Amateur Championship, one of 19 golfers in this week’s 108-man field to have competed every year since the event’s inception in 2015. But getting here from his home in Guadalajara was trickier than expected.
Ortiz was scheduled to fly from Mexico to Panama and then on to Punta Cana on Monday, and had boarded the first leg of the trip only to have one of the plane’s doors be unable to close properly. All the passengers had to get off, and Ortiz tried to book a new flight from Guadalajara to Houston, Houston to Miami and Miami to Punta Cana. But he couldn’t get his bags back from the first aborted flight quick enough, so he had to reschedule for the next day.
Returning to the airport in Guadalajara on Tuesday, Ortiz made it this time to Panama, but had trouble with the connection to Punta Cana. Another rebooking got him on a flight to Santo Domingo, and he finally arrived at Casa de Campo at 9 p.m local time.
“I took it like a champion,” Ortiz joked on Wednesday. “It could have been worse. I was just glad that I made it yesterday, I was able to sleep here and get a practice round. Everything happens for a reason.”
It’s a great attitude for a golfer who has had a stellar record in the LAAC, but is still looking to finally claim the title. In 2015, he finished tied for third. In 2017, he lost in a playoff to Toto Gana. In 2018, he finished runner-up again, this time to Joaquin Niemann.
And then there was his one other appearance, in 2016, when the tournament was also played at Casa de Campo. Ortiz was in contention again but mistakenly signed for a 71 on Saturday when he shot a 72 (he had a 3 written on a par 3 when he had actually made a bogey 4 on the hole) and was disqualified.
There would be some justice, then, if Ortiz were to finally breakthrough this week.
It would also create a little bit of a headache. Ortiz, who wrapped up his college career last spring, leading the Razorbacks for the second straight year in scoring average, plans to turn professional after finishing play this week; he has entered PGA Tour Latinoamerica Q School. But a LAAC victory earns him a spot in the Masters, provided he remains an amateur through April.
Ortiz, whose older brother Carlos played his way on to the PGA Tour in 2014, says he will gladly wait the remaining few months to turn pro should he need to. He figures the LAAC title would likely secure him sponsor’s exemptions into PGA Latinoamerica events if not a PGA Tour start or two, as was the case with Niemann.
So what will it take for Ortiz to finally walk away with the title? He believes it has little to do with his physical game—he’s proven it’s strong enough to get to the top of the leader board.
“I think I need to have more patience and more mental stability going through the weekend, and just keep, you know, fighting, be patient,” Ortiz said. “It’s a tough course, and believe that even if you have a bad couple rounds to begin, you can come back and steal the trophy.”
Given his track record in the event, and the fact that it’s his last shot at victory, there’s the potential that he could feel extra pressure this time around. He insists, however, that’s not the case.
“It’s kind of like the opposite. I just feel confident about it, you know,” Ortiz said. “I’ve always done good in this tournament and posted low scores. I feel comfortable around this time of the year because I work with my coach, Justin Pointer a lot, and through the months of November to December, I work a lot on my short game with him. I think it’s a good time of the year for me, and just knowing that I’ve been there all those past four years, I think it just helped me build my confidence for this week.”