By Ron Driscoll, USGA
PANAMA CITY, Panama – Alvaro E. Ortiz first played the course that is hosting this week’s 3rd Latin America Amateur Championship (LAAC), the Club de Golf de Panama, 37 years ago.
“It has changed over the years – unfortunately, it ends up getting longer, and you get older,” said Ortiz, 48, of Costa Rica, with a chuckle. “That combination doesn’t help.”
Maybe those factors will conspire against him on Saturday, but Ortiz begins the third round of the championship alone in first place after rounds of 71-66 for a 3-under-par 137 total. That puts the 25-time Costa Rica amateur champion one stroke ahead of Herik Machado, of Brazil, and Alejandro Villavicencio, of Guatemala, who will join Ortiz in the final grouping on Saturday, starting at 10:05 a.m.
The average age of the 52 players who made the 36-hole cut is 22.46, less than half of Ortiz’s age. And yet his experience has been a boon to him over the first two rounds.
“I’m old enough to know where my weaknesses are and where my strengths are,” said Ortiz, who hit only three greens in regulation in Thursday’s opening round, but still managed to shoot 1-over 71. “I’m not a long hitter, and position on this golf course is very important.”
Ortiz is expecting to see more of an emphasis on length in Saturday and Sunday course setup after it played to 6,878 yards and 6,875 yards, respectively, the first two rounds – more than 260 yards less than the championship scorecard yardage of 7,142.
“The setup the first two days was not the potentially long course that it can be,” said Ortiz, who has won the Central America Amateur six times, in six countries. “I’m sure [Saturday] is going to be very different and I’m going to be hitting long irons and even hybrids into greens, and I’m going to be ready for that.”
Ortiz, who has been the oldest player to make the 36-hole cut in each of the first three LAACs, hopes to be prepared for the physical grind as well.
“At this age, competing with the kids is not easy,” said Ortiz, who works as a special advisor to his country’s minister of sports and recreation, Carolina Mauri, a childhood friend. “It’s very hot here and the conditions are difficult. I also need to work on a couple of blisters I have on my right foot.”
In the 2016 LAAC at Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic, Ortiz opened weekend play in a tie for 11th place at even par, before shooting 82-79 on the weekend to finish 46th.
“I never thought I would be in this position, since my priorities are different from the kids who play golf every day,” said Ortiz, who played college golf at Texas Wesleyan University and works in the real-estate industry. “I don’t practice, I play on the weekends. Still, just being here, and being on the front page of the leader board is good enough. It doesn’t matter what happens tomorrow or Sunday.”