PLAYA DEL CARMEN, MEXICO | Before the sun had lifted over the jungle birds,
Álvaro Ortiz walked calmly down the 18th hole at El Camaleon Golf Club as if on his way for a cup of Monday morning coffee. The 24-year-old Mexican with an inky black beard and friendly disposition wasn’t going to win the Mayakoba Golf Classic but was heading out to finish the last two holes of the weather-delayed tournament. While waiting for play to resume, he spoke to a volunteer about his future, which includes intentions to play both the Mackenzie Tour and PGA Tour Latinoamérica in 2020, the next steps in his development toward reaching the PGA Tour full time.
A few minutes later, his 28-year-old brother Carlos came walking up the same fairway in much different circumstances. About 12 hours prior, he had decided against finishing the final hole of his tournament in near darkness while his playing partners, neither of whom were in contention, went forward and completed the hole. So alone he stood on the 72nd hole, one stroke back of the leader and needing a birdie for a chance to be Mexico’s first PGA Tour winner in more than 40 years.
Unlike his brother, Carlos barely said a word in the moments leading up to the most critical hole of his young career. He held his hands in his pockets, staring towards the fairway until the horn blew to signal the restart of play. When it went off, he quickly fist-bumped his caddie and settled over the tee shot as a few dozen eager fans stood ready to shout “
Vámonos, Carlos!” to one of their favorite emerging countryman.
He ultimately made par and settled for a tie for second in the tournament, his best finish in 96 PGA Tour starts. But despite the disappointment of coming up short, there was a feeling that the sequence of events that took place over the past week in Mexico will be remembered by this country for years to come.
“It’s awesome to have the energy pulling for you,” Carlos said shortly after completing his round. “Now I feel what Tiger feels a little bit in my country. I was really happy to be able to perform in front of them with my brother just behind me.”
The energy emanated not just because of Carlos and the superb charge he made up the leaderboard after what seemed like a fatal double bogey to start his fourth round – it’s because of the relationship between him and
Álvaro, two players who at one point found themselves together in a tie for fourth on the Sunday of a PGA Tour event. Around lunchtime, the Mexican flags next to their names, their last names and the amount of holes they had completed matched like their wiry frames and efficient golf swings. If
hadn’t made birdie on his 36th hole Saturday evening, the two would have played together with a chance to compete for a title.
“This is something that is very special for me and my family,”
Álvaro said. “There are no bad feelings between the two of us and we love to root for each other.”
We’ve seen sisters on the LPGA Tour together in contention, but it’s almost unheard of at golf’s highest level. It's likely a situation has never arisen
where one brother stands alone on the 72nd tee hoping to win his first PGA Tour event while the other brother watches from the threesome behind him.
Making it even more special is that the two of them have almost never played competitively against each other because of their age difference. Growing up at Guadalajara Country Club, the same home course where World Golf Hall of Famer Lorena Ochoa developed her game, Carlos and
developed into great players with different timelines.
Carlos had a successful career at the University of North Texas and secured a battlefield promotion to the PGA Tour in 2014 when he won three times on what was then the Web.com Tour. He played the PGA Tour in 2015 and 2016 but spent two subsequent seasons back on the Web.com Tour trying to find his way. He earned full status on the PGA Tour again for 2019 and is off to a terrific start early in the 2020 season with
three top-five finishes in six events.
On the other side,
played for the University of Arkansas and finished his amateur career in style. He won the Latin America Amateur in January and then made the cut at the Masters in April. His start as a professional was not as favorable, as he missed the cut in his first four PGA Tour starts before his exceptional play for three rounds at Mayakoba. It ended in a disappointing 78, which dropped him all the way into a tie for 48th, but the value of the experience he gained couldn’t be overstated.
The brothers share the same instructor, Justin Poynter
of Crown Golf in Arlington, Texas, who has watched the pair develop into two of Mexico’s most prominent competitors.
was 14 years old, he moved into my house and lived with me for nine months to train,” Poynter said. “They are both super competitive and it’s really a great environment for them to be pushing each other. They have complete games and are definitely on the right trajectory.”
Their success together was certainly evident in Mexico during a week when another countryman, Abraham Ancer, finished tied for eighth, adding to the country’s pride.
It’s a sign of Mexican golf continuing to grow, the two Ortiz brothers being prime examples of how far the game has come here.
Top image: Carlos Ortiz