Carlos Ortiz, Abraham Ancer lift Mexican golf to new heights

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Adam Schupak
·7 min read
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As Carlos Ortiz chased his first PGA Tour title at the Vivint Houston Open last month, Abraham Ancer was preparing to play a practice round ahead of his first Masters, the tournament he grew up dreaming of playing and had framed the invitation in his living room.

“But I was like, ‘I’ve got to go watch my boy win this thing,’” Ancer said. “I’ve never been that nervous watching somebody else play. I was actually freaking out there a little bit.”

As Ortiz lined up the winning 20-foot putt, Ancer watched from the Augusta National locker room with U.S. Open champion Bryson DeChambeau and filmed the moment on his phone.

“I’m like, ‘Man, he’s going to win.’ Bryson’s like, ‘Don’t jinx him.’ I said, ‘I’m not going to jinx him, he’s going to make this putt,’” Ancer recounted during a press conference on the eve of the Mayakoba Golf Classic. “He hit that putt maybe a little bit harder than he would have thought or would have wanted, but it went dead center and I was fist pumping, I was so pumped.”

In doing so, Ortiz became the first player from Mexico to win a PGA Tour event in more than 40 years and just the third Mexican native ever, joining Cesar Sanudo, who won the 1970 Azalea Open Invitational and Victor Regalado, who won twice at the 1974 Pleasant Valley Classic and 1978 Quad Cities Open. Afterwards, it took Ortiz five days to respond to his well-wishers, which included Mexican boxer Canelo Alvarez, Formula 1 driver Checo Perez, and Mexico’s most-renowned golfer, World Golf Hall of Famer Lorena Ochoa, who set the bar high for Ortiz and all Mexican golfers with 27 LPGA Tour victories before she retired in 2010.

“She was on TV all the time and in my case, she definitely inspired me and helped me believe that working hard and doing things the right way, we’re able to achieve our goals,” Ortiz said.

Ortiz, 29, broke the long winless spell for Mexican golfers on the PGA Tour, but it likely won’t be long before Ancer or someone else follows in his footsteps. Ortiz and Ancer are leading a contingent of five Mexican golfers (and 11 Latin golfers in all) at this week’s Mayakoba Golf Classic at El Camaleon Golf Club in Riviera Maya, south of Cancun.

Abraham Ancer tees off on the 15th hole during the second round of the Zozo Championship golf tournament at Sherwood Country Club. (Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports)

Ancer, 29, was born in the United States, but grew up in Reynoso, Mexico, and was introduced to the game by his father at the tender age of 2 or 3, he said, at Club Campestre de Reynoso. Asked at Augusta National to describe his childhood course, he cracked, “It’s just like this.”

“I was out there practicing every single day. I never really had to be told, hey, you need to go practice. I was always wanting to be out there and I just love, I love this sport. I love getting better and I feel like there’s so much to get better at still,” he said. “It’s a never-ending journey.”

Ancer’s family crossed back to the border town of McAllen, Texas, so that he could attend high school and pursue his dream of playing golf professionally. Ancer was named the 2010 Jack Nicklaus Award winner as the Junior College National Player of the Year at Odessa College in Texas and played three seasons at Oklahoma, where his college coach, Ryan Hybl, nicknamed him “The Eraser,” for his penchant to bounce back from a bogey with a birdie. Ancer realized his childhood dream of playing on the PGA Tour in 2015, but experienced a rude awakening as a rookie, none more so than when he witnessed the brilliance of Rory McIlroy for the first time at his Tour debut at the Safeway Open.

“I was hitting balls on the range, hitting 7-irons and it was kind of cold in the morning and Rory sets up next to me. I was like, man, this is awesome,” Ancer said. “He starts hitting these irons that just take off straight up in the air carrying 210 into the wind cold, like 5-irons. I was like, ‘Oh, my God, I can’t do that.’ I started thinking I need to hit it higher and farther, so I started tinkering and that was a terrible idea, but I just didn’t know better.”

Ancer missed his first nine cuts his rookie year and was relegated back to the Korn Ferry Tour, but that turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

“I didn’t play my game. I switched equipment, I did a bunch of things trying to play like the top guys in the world and that really hurt me. I mean, it went downhill quickly,” he said. “But I’m thankful I did that and I learned a lot of lessons really quickly. In those five short months I just played terrible golf. I learned so much, and right after that I was like, you know what, I’m going to go back to playing my game.”

He found his stride, winning the 2018 Australian Open, becoming the first Mexican player to represent the International team for the Presidents Cup in 2019 and playing in the final group in his Masters debut last month before skying to a final-round 76 and T-13 finish when his putter let him down on Sunday. Ancer rued missing a short birdie putt at the par-5 second hole.

“I couldn’t really shake it off,” he said. “After that I didn’t really quite feel that comfortable over my putter throughout the round.”

Having risen to No. 22 in the Official World Golf Ranking, Ancer is one of the top-ranked players without a PGA Tour title to his credit, and there’s a growing sense that it is a matter of when, not if, he’ll bring another trophy home for Mexico.

“I think he’s been a great influence for the whole Mexican golf,” Ortiz said. “Even though we’re competing, I look up to him because he’s doing great things.”

Ortiz and Ancer likely will battle this week for the Premio Mexico trophy, which is awarded to the Mexican player with the best finish this week. Ortiz nearly won all the hardware last year, finishing tied for second in the tournament.

“Brendon Todd played unbelievable,” Ortiz said. “I did everything I could and then he won.”

Ortiz had his day in Houston and it’s one he will not soon forget.

“First two days it was kind of almost scary waking up thinking like it was all a dream, just wanted to make sure it was real,” he said.

Could there be a more perfect scenario for Ancer’s maiden victory than becoming the first Mexican to win at El Camaleon in the 14th year of the Mayakoba event? Ortiz doesn’t think so.

“Winning on your home soil would be a dream come true,” he said. “I think it’s coming.”

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