Golf's stage in Mexico grows
April 17, 2017
By Doug Milne, PGATOUR.COM
- April 17, 2017
- With 10 years of history at the OHL Classic and this year's World Golf Championships event in Mexico City, the game of golf in Mexico continues to grow. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
When Brent Geiberger struck the first tee shot at the inaugural OHL Classic at Mayakoba at 6:40 a.m. on February 22, 2007, more so than anything, it was the game of golf that went skyward.
And, it has never come down.
Few will remember where that first ball came to rest, but in that symbolic moment, the PGA TOUR entered onto an extended world stage for the very first time. That stage was the country of Mexico.
In that season of 2007, only three of 47 official PGA TOUR events were contested outside of the United States; the RBC Canadian Open, The Open Championship and the OHL Classic at Mayakoba. The two Opens were grounded in location by virtue of tradition and history. The setting for the OHL Classic at Mayakoba, however, was based entirely on the future.
When Fred Funk won the first OHL Classic at Mayakoba that week, at the age of 50 years, 8 months and 11 days, he became the oldest winner to date on the PGA TOUR. As Funk hoisted the tournament’s first trophy that afternoon, a teenager from Guadalajara named Carlos Ortiz, just two months shy of his 16th birthday, saw his future. For the first time, a PGA TOUR event was being contested on his home turf, and Ortiz’s aspirations of becoming a member of the PGA TOUR were further fueled.
The PGA TOUR’s intention with the OHL Classic at Mayakoba was to help grow the game in Mexico and beyond by showcasing the world’s top golfers. The event was an easy sell to the TOUR’s membership, as the Mayakoba Resort, a brand-new luxury resort along the Caribbean coastline in Riviera Maya, along with a Greg Norman-designed championship golf course, combined for an unforgettable experience that first year. The tournament field included 42 PGA TOUR winners, including former U.S. Presidents Cup Team member Funk, with the telecast on Golf Channel reaching more than 200 countries, finding its way into nearly 500 million homes.
Nine years later, the OHL Classic at Mayakoba celebrated its 10-year anniversary, a true pioneer for golf in Mexico. Pat Perez was crowned the 2017 champion, having come back from shoulder surgery last year.
“This one's a little extra special because I’m 40 years old,” said Perez. “It’s really, it's really fulfilling. It feels amazing. It feels better than the last one because everything I had to go through.”
Another tremendous story from the OHL Classic at Mayakoba came in 2015, with former U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell claiming his third PGA TOUR title, having gone more than two years since his last win at the 2013 RBC Heritage.
“I dreamed of this day coming again sometime,” McDowell said following his playoff victory. “I said to myself that I was really going to appreciate it and I do appreciate it. I’m certainly going to use it as a bit of a springboard and a stepping block to where I want to be in this game again.”
Others to play the OHL Classic over the first 10 years include Jason Day, Jim Furyk, Justin Thomas, Matt Kuchar and Bubba Watson. Spain’s Jon Rahm, now inside the top 25 in the Official World Golf Ranking, has competed at OHL Classic at Mayakoba each of the past three years, including two years as an amateur.
In addition to the platform it has been for the game’s greatest players, the OHL Classic at Mayakoba has been a pivotal stepping stone in educating youth with regard to golf’s merits and virtues. Golf PARa Todos (Golf FORE Everyone) strives to create a fun-filled, diverse and educational program that teaches about the game of golf, its ideals and the first premier professional golf event in Mexico - the OHL Classic at Mayakoba. The program encourages active participation in the game as a fan, and facilitates the integration of golf into the lives of all those within the community while creating a connection with a PGA TOUR event.
Since the inception of the OHL Classic in 2007, the passion and desire for the game in Mexico and throughout Latin America has continued to grow. In fact, the overall embrace was far-reaching enough that in 2012, PGA TOUR Latinoamerica was formed and recognized by the Official World Golf Ranking.
On June 1, 2016, The PGA TOUR, on behalf of the International Federation of PGA Tours, announced that the World Golf Championships tournament held in Miami since 2007 would relocate to Mexico City and be renamed the World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship, beginning in 2017. The move is the result of a seven-year agreement through 2023 with Grupo Salinas, a collection of companies based in Mexico City primarily involved in retail, television, telecommunications and other businesses.
The transplanted event was won last month by World No. 1 Dustin Johnson. It marked his first victory as the leader of the world rankings.
“One of the things that's so exciting about being here is the long‑term commitment to grow this game in Mexico,” said PGA TOUR Commissioner Jay Monahan. “We have nine million people here in Mexico City. The PGA TOUR has 10 million fans throughout Mexico.”
“It's been very flattering to come play here and feel the support from the people,” said World Golf Hall of Fame Member Phil Mickelson. “They've been so nice and I'm very happy that this tournament, the World Golf Championships, has been brought here to Mexico City. It has been a great opportunity to bring the best players in the world right here.”
Anchored by the OHL Classic at Mayakoba and its recent 10-year anniversary and the first-year Mexico Championship, Mexico is home to the Web.com Tour’s El Bosque Mexico Championship in Guanajuato and three PGA TOUR Latinoamérica events -- the Abierto Mexicano de Golf, the Mazatlan Open, and the San Luis Potosí Open. The LPGA Tour also hosts the LPGA’s Lorena Ochoa Invitational in Mexico City.
Since 1994, Mexico has hosted over 70 tournaments on professional golf tours, including four World Cups.
Mexico has also produced more than 20 professionals currently competing full-time on the PGA TOUR, PGA TOUR Champions, Web.com Tour, PGA TOUR Latinoamérica and the LPGA. Included on that list are Roberto Diaz, Sebastián Vázquez, Carlos Ortiz, Abraham Ancer, Rodolfo Cazaubon, and LPGA members Gaby Lopez and Alejandra Llaneza. The team of Lopez and Llaneza represented Mexico in 2016’s Olympics Games in Rio, while Ortiz and Cazaubon competed for the men.
With 10 years of history at the OHL Classic at Mayakoba, a new World Golf Championships event the cultivation of young Mexican talent through PGA TOUR Latinoamérica, the game of golf in Mexico indeed remains skyward, with no indication of coming down soon.