A Five Year Dream in the Making: Alvaro Ortiz Wins the 2019 LAAC
This time, he came out on top.
After three top-3 finishes and being the most consistently good player in the five-year history of the Latin America Amateur, 23-year-old Alvaro Ortiz of Mexico finally has his gold medal, his silver LAAC trophy and best of all that coveted invitation to compete in the Masters Tournament in April.
“It feels so good to win this tournament after wanting to do so for so long,” the University of Arkansas graduate said after signing for a final-day 66 that put him at 14-under for the 72-hole event. “I cannot believe I finally did it, and that I am going to play in the Masters.”
Ortiz thought he might be heading to Augusta during the playing of the inaugural Latin America Amateur outside Buenos Aires in Argentina in 2015. But he came up just short, tying for 3rd place just two shots off the lead. And that was after closing with a 67. Then in 2017, Ortiz, who is a native of Guadalajara and the son of a carpenter, ended up tied for 1st place with two other players after 72 holes. But he did not prevail in the playoff. And last year, he was once again a bridesmaid, coming in 2nd.
But none of that seemed to bother the lanky lad as he prepared for the 2018 championship, which was contested for a second time on the highly regarded Teeth of the Dog course at the Casa de Campo resort in the Dominican Republic. “Just playing in this tournament so many times, and playing well, makes me believe that I can win it,” Ortiz said before the competition began. “I feel confident, and I feel comfortable.”
The younger brother of PGA Tour professional Carlos Ortiz, he certainly played that way, starting with a 6-under par 66 that left him in first place with a three-shot lead over five others. After a second-day 72 put him back in a tie for 2nd, he rode a 70 on Saturday to sole possession of 1st place. Remarkably, that marked the 6th time he had held or shared the overnight lead in the five years he had played in this tourney.
Ortiz lost that lead on the front nine of Sunday’s final round, though, after Luis Gagne of Costa Rica scorched the seaside track with a 32 that took him to 10-under as Ortiz posted a 1-under 35 that left him a shot behind. After making pars on 10 and 11, the Mexican made an eagle-three on the 12th and followed that with a birdie on No. 13, hitting a wedge into that wind-whipped green stiff and then tapping in his putt. That tied him with Gagne at 12-under, and Ortiz was able to stay in that position when he parred 14, 15 and 16.
After he hit a 6-iron onto the green of the par-4 16th, Ortiz says he noticed on the leaderboard that Gagne had bogeyed No. 17, a dramatic 4-par running along the Caribbean and set up to play at just 287 yards. That meant Ortiz was once again in the lead, and he played that hole brilliantly, hitting a mid-iron off the tee and then leaving his short approach mere inches from the cup. A birdie there, and another on the par-5 18th, which he reached in two, gave him the LAAC title he had long pursued, and that trip to Augusta next spring.