Ortiz's rapid, unlikely journey to the PGA Tour

By Rex HoggardOctober 8, 2014, 5:16 pm

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Carlos Ortiz’s journey to Silverado Resort’s 10th tee from Guadalajara, Mexico - via Denton, Texas - for Thursday's opening round of the Frys.com Open has been, by definition, meteoric.

Consider that at this time last year, the 23-year-old, who was named the 2014 Web.com Tour Player of the Year this week, was spending his days preparing for Web.com Q-School and had missed the cut in his lone significant professional start, something called the TransAmerican CRV Open on the PGA Tour Latinoamerica.

Now fast-forward to his debut as a card-carrying Tour member at the Frys.com Open, where he will be vying for part of a $6 million purse with the ultimate rookie trump card - fully exempt status via his three victories on the Web.com Tour in 2014.

It’s not exactly professional golf’s version of a rookie-league pitcher getting the call up to start Game 1 in the World Series, yet for all but the most tuned-in observers, the native of Mexico has emerged as a blue-chip prospect from the vast expanses of developmental golf’s gray areas.

But what makes Ortiz compelling among a rich crop of Tour rookies in 2014-15 is that he spent much of his senior season at the University of North Texas before turning pro last year, filling the role of the team’s No. 2 player, and he’s not even the best player to ever emerge from Guadalajara Country Club ... by a long shot.

That honor belongs to Lorena Ochoa, a future World Golf Hall of Famer who retired at 28 with 27 LPGA victories.

In spite of - or perhaps as a result of - those realities, Ortiz seems uniquely equipped to succeed where so many others have failed on the PGA Tour.

“I came out with low expectations,” Ortiz said late last month at the Web.com Tour Championship. “I didn’t know what to expect. I had never played professional golf before. My first tournament in Colombia, I was scared and didn’t know what would happen.”

Ortiz would finish third at the Colombia Championship to secure peace of mind, if not improved status on the Web.com Tour, and a month later would notch his first professional victory at the Panama Claro Championship.

“(Colombia) opened up my mind. I said, ‘Carlos, you can compete out here.’ I started believing in myself. Maybe I’m good enough to play the PGA Tour,” he said.

It was a similar psychological journey to the one Ortiz had to make when he arrived at North Texas, with equal parts potential and project.

At Ortiz’s first college event at the University of New Mexico, he struggled, admits North Texas golf coach Brad Stracke.

“His transition was kind of difficult from high school to college,” Stracke recalled. “He didn’t play very well in the U.S. as a junior. He was a little uncomfortable. He wasn’t very confident.”

As Stracke learned, Ortiz needed to find his way on his own terms and timetable. It was early in Ortiz’s freshman year that the coach talked to him about the importance of being structured on the course and needing a routine.

“I was talking to Carlos about his routine and he said he didn’t have one, so I let him go and do his thing. But he started listening and did much better after that,” Stracke said. “He’s smart enough to know that he needed to fail to get better. He learned from that and he had to learn to trust me.”

The following year, he won that same college event at New Mexico and posted the school’s lowest scoring average in 16 years. He evolved into an extremely consistent player and, along with teammate Rodolfo Cazaubon, would earn all-conference honors each of his four years in Denton.

Ortiz’s measured approach is similar to Ochoa’s, who he grew up idolizing and learning from at Guadalajara. Like many of the juniors at the club, Ochoa would challenge Ortiz to putting contests and, by default, introduced him to her no-nonsense style.

“Just like when I was little, I would practice with the older professionals and I would get so excited to be the best. And then when I was older, we would invite the little ones to practice with us,” Ochoa said. “He wanted to be the best and wanted to qualify for the [Tour]. We would close our eyes and I would tell him, ‘You will win on the PGA Tour and beat Tiger Woods if you make this putt.’”

As for those putting contests with the two-time major winner? “I’m sure at least one time I beat her,” Ortiz smiled.

The result of that unique understudy experience is a player with a potent combination of patience and competitive prowess.

He followed his maiden victory on the secondary circuit last season, at the Panama Claro, with another win two starts later, at the Mexico Championship, before lapsing into an almost predictable competitive swoon.

Ortiz earned more than two-thirds of his $515,000 in Web.com Tour winnings last season in three starts. In between, he missed four cuts in seven events through the dogs days of summer and arrived at the WinCo Foods Portland Open still one win shy of a promotion to the PGA Tour. He opened with rounds of 66 and 63 before hanging on over the weekend to secure his third title and his Tour card. 

“There were a lot of things going through my mind in the middle of the season. I wasn’t thinking correctly,” Ortiz admitted. “In Portland, it was much harder than I thought. I struggled early the final day, (but) I was proud of myself and that third win was big for me.”

Since that victory, he has methodically readied himself for what can often be a harsh transition to the PGA Tour. In May, at the urging of his manager, Ortiz spent a day at The Players.

“He spent all day there,” said Chance Cosby, Ping’s director of tournament player relations. “His manager brought him out to give him a feel for the PGA Tour and to meet some of the players.”

As expected, Ortiz is keeping himself grounded as prepares for his first full year on Tour, which makes sense considering he's had just one big-leaue start, a tie for 65th last season at the Memorial.

“I need to refocus and do what I did at the beginning of [2014] and just play my best,” he said. “The only thing that changes are the names on the leaderboard.”

But then that’s not exactly true for Ortiz, who despite his fast-track journey to Silverado and the PGA Tour will have to make one key adjustment as he continues his climb. Thanks to his three wins on the Web.com Tour, he is no longer playing the supporting-actor role.

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Watch: Daly makes birdie from 18-foot-deep bunker

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 11:14 pm

John Daly on Friday somehow got up and down for birdie from the deepest bunker on the PGA Tour.

The sand to the left of the green on the 16th hole at the Stadium Course at PGA West sits 18 feet below the surface of the green.

That proved no problem for Daly, who cleared the lip three times taller than he is and then rolled in a 26-footer.

He fared just slightly better than former Speaker of the House, Tip O'Neill.

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Koepka (wrist) likely out until the Masters

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 9:08 pm

Defending U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka is expected to miss at least the next two months because of a torn tendon in his left wrist.

Koepka, who suffered a partially torn Extensor Carpi Ulnaris (ECU), is hoping to return in time for the Masters.

In a statement released by his management company, Koepka said that doctors are unsure when the injury occurred but that he first felt discomfort at the Hero World Challenge, where he finished last in the 18-man event. Playing through pain, he also finished last at the Tournament of Champions, after which he underwent a second MRI that revealed the tear.

Koepka is expected to miss the next eight to 12 weeks.

“I am frustrated that I will now not be able to play my intended schedule,” Koepka said. “But I am confident in my doctors and in the treatment they have prescribed, and I look forward to teeing it up at the Masters. … I look forward to a quick and successful recovery.”

Prior to the injury, Koepka won the Dunlop Phoenix and cracked the top 10 in the world ranking. 

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Cut Line: Color Rory unafraid of the Ryder Cup

By Rex HoggardJanuary 19, 2018, 7:09 pm

In this week’s edition, Rory McIlroy gets things rolling with some early Ryder Cup banter, Dustin Johnson changes his tune on a possible golf ball roll-back, and the PGA Tour rolls ahead with integrity training.

Made Cut

Paris or bust. Rory McIlroy, who made his 2018 debut this week on the European Tour, can be one of the game’s most affable athletes. He can also be pointed, particularly when discussing the Ryder Cup.

Asked this week in Abu Dhabi about the U.S. team, which won the last Ryder Cup and appears to be rejuvenated by a collection of new players, McIlroy didn’t disappoint.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

McIlroy has come by his confidence honestly, having won three of the four Ryder Cups he’s played, so it’s understandable if he doesn't feel like an underdog heaidng to Paris.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that,” he said. “The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

September can’t get here quick enough.

Mr. Spieth goes to Ponte Vedra Beach. The Tour announced this year’s player advisory council, the 16-member group that works with the circuit’s policy board to govern.

There were no real surprises to the PAC, but news that Jordan Spieth had been selected to run for council chair is interesting. Spieth, who is running against Billy Hurley III and would ascend to the policy board next year if he wins the election, served on the PAC last year and would make a fine addition to the policy board, but it is somewhat out of character for a marquee player.

In recent years, top players like Spieth have largely avoided the distractions that come with the PAC and policy board. Of course, we’ve also learned in recent years that Spieth is not your typical superstar.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

On second thought. In December at the Hero World Challenge, Dustin Johnson was asked about a possible golf ball roll-back, which has become an increasingly popular notion in recent years.

“I don't mind seeing every other professional sport. They play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball,” he said in the Bahamas. “I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage.”

The world No. 1 appeared to dial back that take this week in Abu Dhabi, telling BBC Sport, “It's not like we are dominating golf courses. When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy?”

Maybe it didn’t feel that way, but DJ’s eight-stroke romp two weeks ago at the Sentry Tournament of Champions certainly looked pretty easy.

Long odds. I had a chance to watch the Tour’s 15-minute integrity training video that players have been required view and came away with a mixture of confusion and concern.

The majority of the video, which includes a Q&A element, focuses on how to avoid match fixing. Although the circuit has made it clear there is no indication of current match fixing, it’s obviously something to keep an eye on.

The other element that’s worth pointing out is that although the Tour may be taking the new program seriously, some players are not.

“My agent watched [the training video] for me,” said one Tour pro last week at the Sony Open.

Missed Cut

Groundhog Day. To be fair, no one expected Patton Kizzire and James Hahn to need six playoff holes to decide last week’s Sony Open, but the episode does show why variety is the spice of life.

After finishing 72 holes tied at 17 under, Kizzire and Hahn played the 18th hole again and again and again and again. In total, the duo played the par-5 closing hole at Waialae Country Club five times (including in regulation play) on Sunday.

It’s worth noting that the playoff finally ended with Kizzire’s par at the sixth extra hole, which was the par-3 17th. Waialae’s 18th is a fine golf hole, but in this case familiarity really did breed contempt.

Tweet of the week:

It was a common theme last Saturday on Oahu after an island-wide text alert was issued warning of an inbound ballistic missile and advising citizens to “seek immediate shelter.”

The alert turned out to be a mistake, someone pushed the wrong button during a shift change, but for many, like Peterson, it was a serious lesson in perspective.

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Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.