This rookie was off to a rough start on the PGA Tour. But that all changed at the Puerto Rico Open
Nico Echavarria hasn’t made many cuts during his rookie season on the PGA Tour. Two to be exact prior to this week’s Puerto Rico Open. But he’s done decently when he’s made it to the weekend, collecting a pair of top-25 finishes.
Now he’s three-for-three. Only this time he was better than decent. Echavarria had a weekend to remember.
In just his 11th PGA Tour start and coming off four straight missed cuts, Echavarria won the Puerto Rico Open on Sunday, beating former junior phenom Akshay Bhatia by two strokes in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico. A four-under-par 68 in breezy conditions at Grand Reserve Golf Club gave the Colombian native a share of the tournament record of 21-under 267 and a berth in this week’s Players Championship.
“After missing four cuts in a row, only making two cuts out here, you just doubt yourself,” said Echavarria, trying to hold back tears after becoming the 10th player to make the Puerto Rico Open his first tour victory. “I’m very grateful that I kept pushing and got it done. I’m happy with how we did. I’m happy with life right now.”
He wasn’t the only happy guy.
Bhatia closed with four straight birdies for a 65 for his best career finish and earned special temporary membership on the tour, affording him unlimited sponsor’s exemptions. “I can’t believe I’m crying. Oh, my God,” said the left-hander, 21, who bypassed college and turned pro at 17. “It means a lot. I mean, worked really hard. It's been a crazy journey, for sure.”
Echavarria, 28, is the third Colombian to win on the PGA Tour, joining Camilo Villegas and Sebastian Munoz. Villegas, who finished off a one-over 73 to end up T-48 about two hours earlier, was among those who congratulated Echavarria on the 18th green as his countryman was doused with champagne.
“Camilo, I mean, is my hero from … that's the reason why I play golf,” Echavarria said. “Watching him win was the thing that sparked me to do this, and here we are winning on the PGA Tour. He sent me a great message yesterday saying that at some point in the round you're going to feel like you lose control, you're going to feel like the tournament could go away, and it did feel like that on No. 6 with a very bad swing and ended up being probably the best bogey of my life.”
The former University of Arkansas golfer earned $684,000 and not only got into this week’s Players, which offers a $25 million purse, but also earned a spot in the PGA Championship in May at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y. But the former is the big one; Echavarria lives in Jacksonville, Fla., not far from Ponte Vedra Beach, the home of the Players.
He had been dreading the coming week. Not anymore.
“I wasn’t even going to go out there,” he said, figuring he was going to be sitting at home. “I hate that week, knowing that the Players is going on and I’m not playing.
“Yeah, it's going to be incredible to be at home. Especially after a win, it's going to be special.”
First order of business? Just make that cut. Good things seem to happen after that.