LA ROMANA, Dominican Republic — For the last 20 or so hours, Mexico's Alvaro Ortiz has been welcomed with a lot of laughs and varying versions of the same sentiment.
He even heard it in the middle of an interview Wednesday, when a tournament official called out to him: "Alvaro! Glad you made it!"
"Yeah," he answered with a smile, "Everyone keeps saying that."
The 23-year-old was supposed to fly on Monday from Guadaljara in Mexico to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic via a connection through Panama, but the flight crew proved unable to shut one of the plane's doors. There was another flight he could have taken from Guadalajara to Houston to Miami to Punta Cana, but his luggage was stuck on the plane that couldn't take off, and it stayed there for three hours.
Reunited with his bags, he was able to leave Mexico on Tuesday for that connection through Panama, just like he was supposed to the day prior. Except when he got to Panama, he didn't realize that there were two flights to the Dominican Republic leaving 30 minutes apart. Confused about which flight he was supposed to be on, he ended up missing both of them. Three hours later, he ended up on a plane to Santo Domingo, which is about two hours west of La Romama. And at 9 p.m. Atlantic Standard Time, Ortiz finally arrived at Casa de Campo.
"I took it like a champ," he said, unable to keep straight face.
Ortiz could be lifting the LAAC trophy like a champ by the end of the week. He's the most successful player in the four-year history of this event who has yet to win. He tied for third in 2015, lost in a three-way playoff with Toto Gana and Joaquin Niemann in 2017, and was runner-up to Niemann in 2018 after taking the 54-hole lead. The only year he didn't post a third-or-better finish was in 2016, the last time the event was played here on the Teeth of the Dog course, when he signed an incorrect scorecard after his third round.
"I just feel confident about it. I've always done good in this tournament and posted low scores," Ortiz said when asked about his past performances. " I feel comfortable around this time of the year, because I work with my coach, Justin Poynter a lot. Through the months of November to December, I work a lot on my short game with him, and I think it's a good time of the year for me. Just knowing that I've been there all those past four years, I think it just helped me build my confidence for this week.
Since finishing his college career at Arkansas last year, Ortiz has been working on his game in Dallas, Texas, with Poynter and spending time with his brother, Carlos, the three-time Web.com Tour winner who earned a promotion to the PGA Tour in 2014.
And now, after so many close calls, Ortiz is staring at his last chance to punch a ticket to Augusta National, at least as an amateur. Barring a victory this week, Ortiz will immediately turn pro and head to PGA Tour Latinoamérica Qualifying School next week. But if he does break through, if he does finally earn that Masters invite, he'll hold onto his amateur status through the year's first major, just as Niemann did last year.
One way or another, his amateur career is coming to an end.
"I just feel a lot of emotion in a good way," he said. "It's my fifth one, and I mean, I don't want to put any pressure on myself or anything, or create bigger expectations than there already are, but I want to have a good week and say goodbye to the amateur side of the golf and end my career on a good note."