LA ROMANA, Dominican Republic — Two years ago, Alvaro Ortiz received an invitation to travel to Augusta National to take in a Masters practice round.
Most people dream of getting to see Augusta National even once in their lives. But Ortiz declined.
“The first time I wanted to step into Augusta, I wanted (it) to be because I knew I was going to play there – the tournament,” Ortiz said.
Well, Alvaro, you're going to get your chance. Ortiz fired a final-round 66 on Sunday to win the Latin America Amateur Championship at 14 under par and earn an invite to this year’s Masters.
The win is a long-overdue for the 23-year-old, who had come so close at this event in the past, only to be denied time after time. He finished tied for the third in 2015, lost a playoff in Panama in 2017 and gave up a 54-hole lead in 2018, when Joaquin Niemann raced by him with a final-round 63.
For nine holes Sunday, it looked like Ortiz, once again the 54-hole leader, was once again going to walk away empty-handed. Playing in the group ahead, Costa Rica’s Luis Gagne carded four front-nine birdies to make the turn in 32 and claim the outright lead.
“It felt like a déjà vu, for sure,” Ortiz said. “(Luis) was playing exceptionally. … I think on No. 9, walking to No. 10 tee, I told myself, ‘This was my time.’ Like I was going to do what Joaquin did last year, and it wasn't going to happen to me again.”
Ortiz started his torrid closing stretch at the par-5 12th. Left with 235 yards up the hill for his second shot, he was in between clubs but opted to hit a 3-wood as high as he could to cut off some of the distance and, hopefully, hold the green. One putt later, he was furiously fist pumping an eagle that pulled him even with Gagne. He followed by throwing a dart into the par-4 13th that left him a tap-in birdie and kept him tied atop the leaderboard.
And when Gagne finally faltered, dropping his first shot in 36 holes at the drivable par-4 17th, Ortiz took full advantage. Minutes later, Ortiz's approach from 91 yards at the 17th nearly found the hole, resulting in another tap-in birdie that put him two shots up with one to play. A two-putt birdie at the par-5 18th closed out a two-shot victory and a stretch of golf that saw Ortiz play his final seven holes in 5 under.
“I didn't want to be that nervous at the end. I wanted to have more of a walk in the park the last couple holes,” Ortiz joked. “But yeah, it's close to what I dreamt, and for sure, it's fulfilling.”
It’s been a long journey for Ortiz, who had to learn the hard way that he’ll need to get out of his own way if he’s ever going to get where he really wants to go. Both Ortiz's parents and college coaches have tried to get the emotional player to harness his temper.
“He was a top junior player, but he had some, I would say, temperamental issues,” Brad McMakin, Ortiz’s college coach at Arkansas, told GolfChannel.com by phone Sunday. “I had to bench him as a freshman. … His temper was affecting his golf.”
Asked if he remembered the incident, Ortiz was quick to answer.
“Oh yeah,” he said. “It’s very clear in my mind. It happened, actually, my sophomore year. I struggled a little bit my freshman year, but my sophomore year was when it got the worst.”
Ortiz then immediately recalled a tournament he played in Cabo in front of his parents.
“Even my parents cussed me out and told me I had to change,” Ortiz said. “I had to do things better. And I remember (McMakin and assistant coach Barrett Lais) giving me a talk after the round.
“When something starts affecting your golf game and your abilities and your talent, you have to change it and you have to get rid of it.”
On Sunday, his parents were there again, standing behind the 18th green, watching their son tap in for victory and then get doused with water and champagne by his Mexican teammates. Ortiz said earlier this week that it's always an honor to be able to play in front of his parents. He walked off the green and embraced them both, finally able to celebrate a victory in this event after consecutive runner-up finishes.
He shared an especially long hug with his father.
“Yeah, we haven't been in the best terms lately, my dad and I,” Ortiz said.
Asked what exactly his son meant, Carlos told GolfChannel.com that the issues started after Alvaro failed to advance past the second stage of Web.com Tour Q-School last November. Alvaro had been so confident that he was going to get his Web.com Tour card.
“We are really close,” Carlos said. “When he missed second stage, he started not practicing that much. He went down. … I’ve talked hard with him. ‘Hey, Alvaro, wake up. This is life, my friend. You have to concentrate. You have to put everything together again. You have to work for all the things you want to do in life.’”
Ortiz rededicated himself, and two months later he was able to hear something else from his father.
“He deserved it. I told him that,” Carlos said. “'You deserve it. You worked really, really hard and you’re going to the Masters.'”
Added Alvaro: “He always was there for me, and always pushing me to do my best. He just told me that hard work pays off – always – and it was just an emotional feeling.”
Ortiz says it will be just as emotional seeing the Mexican flag represented at Augusta National. When he takes that trip down Magnolia Lane in April, he’ll become only the fourth Mexican in history to play the Masters and the first in 40 years, since Victor Regalado in 1979.
Looking back, Ortiz now sees what happened to him in second stage as a blessing. Had he earned his Tour card, he would have never come back to this event. He would have never captured the title that eluded him. And he would not be playing his first major championship in less than three months.
“I was brokenhearted after second stage,” Ortiz admitted.
But there was his father, reminding him what was still in front of him, a fifth and final shot at the LAAC.
It was then that Ortiz decided: This is the year I’m going to win Latin America Am. This happened for a reason. This is going to be my year.
Ortiz will retain his amateur status through the Masters. He’ll spend the next few months splitting his time between his family’s home in Guadalajara and his brother Carlos’ house in Dallas. Carlos is the three-time Web.com Tour winner who earlier this week shot a second-round 62 at the PGA Tour’s Desert Classic. Alvaro will practice with Carlos and continue to work with his swing coach, Justin Poynter.
“I'll probably spend a lot of time with Justin trying to get my swing right for the week,” Ortiz said. “I think the course suits me. You have to hit it high and you have to hit a draw and that's what I do. … I think (Poynter) has been there once or a couple times, but I'm kind of friends with Jason Day. I'll probably send him a text and ask him about the course.”
Augusta National can rattle even the most experienced of veterans. So if Ortiz is going to become the first Latin Am winner to make a Masters cut, he’s going to have to keep his cool. Even at times, this week, you could see the temper flaring, like when his group was put on the clock Saturday. Ortiz decided to leave his playing partners behind on the 12th green and tee off on No. 13 by himself, walking half a hole ahead.
After the group was told to pick up their pace, Ortiz had to be told to slow down.
“He’s got that Latin American fire in him,” McMakin said. “He’s always going to have hand gestures and show his emotions. But he’s gotten much better at managing them. He’s a much more mature player.”
Ortiz knows that his temper has cost him in this event at least once before, when he lost in that 2017 playoff to Gana. But this week, Ortiz was able to release all of his emotion at the right time – when he tapped in on the 72nd green.
“It feels good to be able to finally hold this trophy after wanting it for so long,” Ortiz said. “I can't believe I finally did it and I'm going to play the Masters.”