By Ron Driscoll, USGA
Exactly three years ago this week, on Saturday evening after the third round of the second Latin America Amateur Championship, Alvaro Ortiz consulted the tee times for Sunday’s final round on Casa de Campo’s Teeth of the Dog, and his heart sank.
Ortiz saw that his listed score was incorrect, and he scrambled to the championship office to attempt to correct it. But it was a few hours after the round ended, and he was disqualified for the error, losing out on the chance to compete for the championship one year after he tied for third place in the inaugural event.
The overarching storyline for Sunday’s final round of the fifth LAAC is whether Ortiz can finally break through for victory after following up that DQ with a playoff loss to Toto Gana in 2017 and another runner-up finish last year to Joaquin Niemann, who closed with a 63 in Santiago, Chile.
“Sometimes you start doubting yourself when you’ve been knocking on the door so many times,” said Ortiz after Saturday’s 2-under 70 gave him a one-stroke lead starting the final round. “Sometimes you think that it will never open, but you have to be patient and keep going, keep doing good things.”
Did Ortiz return to Casa de Campo this week thinking that he had unfinished business at this seaside Dominican resort?
“I was playing great golf and felt like I had a really good chance to win it that year,” said Ortiz, 23, of Mexico, the top player in the World Amateur Golf Ranking from his country at No. 119. “But everything happens for a reason, and it gave me a little more confidence coming into this week that there was something left undone. I don’t plan on making that same mistake ever again.”
Ortiz’s return to the 2016 venue this week was not without its hiccups – a couple of travel snafus kept him from arriving on the property until Tuesday night. But he shook off those seemingly bad omens, just as he shrugged off a slow-play warning on Saturday when he and his fellow-competitors were battling for the third-round lead.
“It’s hard when you get put on the clock,” said Ortiz. “But we fell behind. We understand the Rules officials are doing their job. We just tried to play as fast as we could those holes.”
Ortiz made back-to-back bogeys to start the second nine on Saturday, but he steadied himself and finished with a two-putt birdie on the par-5 18th. This is his final LAAC, as he plans to turn professional either post-championship or after competing in the Masters, should he win.
Ortiz has chosen to use the cumulative effect of his close calls as positive steps in his development as a player and a person.
“When a guy shoots 63, there’s not a lot you can do, right?” said Ortiz, whose older brother, Carlos, competes on the PGA Tour. “My dad always taught that life has a funny way of showing you the best lessons; sometimes they come in the toughest packages. You just have to be humble enough to take every lesson with open arms and learn the most out of every single one.”
Ortiz has been working recently to hone his short game with coach Justin Poynter in Dallas, where he lives with Carlos and his family after completing his eligibility at the University of Arkansas last year. On Sunday, he will find out if the LAAC will deliver yet another lesson or the spoils of victory.
“If my dream doesn’t come true, for sure I’ll be sad, but I’ll keep going and this will help me someday to win the Masters,” said Ortiz.
Not surprisingly, Ortiz’s mantra is upbeat: the result will be either dream realized or simply deferred.
Ron Driscoll is the senior manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org