It’s 'Viva, Mexico' at Mayakoba and on PGA TOUR
Country boasts record four fully exempt players this season, seven in field this week
November 07, 2018
By Cameron Morfit, PGATOUR.COM
Inside the PGA TOUR
Mayakoba Golf Classic preview
PLAYA DEL CARMEN, Mexico – Only two Mexican players have won on the PGA TOUR: Victor Regalado at the 1974 Pleasant Valley Classic and Cesar Sanudo at the 1970 Azalea Open Invitational. (Mexican-American Lee Trevino played for the U.S. and even captained the 1985 U.S. Ryder Cup team.) But with a record four exempt Mexicans on TOUR—Abraham Ancer, Roberto Diaz, Jose de Jesus Rodriguez and Carlos Ortiz—things are looking up.
They’re way up at the Mayakoba Golf Classic, which has made room for three more Mexicans in the field, bringing the total to seven, and a strength-in-numbers ethos that is rare for a TOUR event. Golf’s return to the Olympic Games in 2016 and 2020 has helped, as have two TOUR events in Mexico. But the record Mexican representation is also a reminder of what can happen when you give a guy a chance, Diaz and others said this week. It speaks to the power of special exemptions, and the steadying presence of PGA TOUR Latinoamérica.
“Mexico has got really the potential to produce a lot more players than four,” said Ancer, who finished T4 at last week’s Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. “It’s not as easy as for Americans because there’s not really any public courses in Mexico, but it’s trending in the right direction for Mayakoba.”
There are a handful of reasons for this. For starters, it’s hard to overstate the importance of exemptions for lesser-known Mexican players like Sebastian Vazquez, Armando Favela and Oscar Fraustro this week. Such dispensations were once a stepping stone for the four Mexicans who now have their TOUR cards, and Diaz is a case in point. He was given a spot in the field at Mayakoba in 2013, and while he missed the cut, it was still a career-changer.
“They knocked on the door, on my door, and they said, ‘All right, you can do it,’” Diaz said. “And then you start playing more and more and more, and finally you come here as a member and you see everything different and you see how everything started.
“Just very thankful,” he added. “Very, very thankful, because it’s super important that an organization like this help out kids coming out of college or coming (into) professional golf.”
Ortiz, who won three times and was Web.com Tour Player of the Year in 2014, also spoke of Mayakoba, which began in 2007, as a lifeline.
“I feel really grateful to the people that put this together,” he said. “They were the first ones to believe in golf in Mexico.”
This is arguably the strongest field ever to hit Mexico’s Riviera Maya, with Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Tony Finau among the stars. The infusion of homegrown talent is a bonus, and numbers are up not just because once-exempted players are now coming to maturity. It’s also because PGA TOUR Latinoamérica launched in 2012, creating a gateway to the big time.
Jose de Jesus Rodriguez was a legend in Mexico when he joined PGA TOUR Latinoamérica, and sure enough he was 2017 Player of the Year to reach the Web.com Tour last season.
“Day by day your confidence grows,” said de Jesus Rodriguez, who missed the cut in his first TOUR start, the Safeway Open, but has made the weekend rounds the last two weeks.
“Mexico is a very important market for us, and seeing their talent succeed is a result of their hard work and perseverance,” said Jack Warfield, President of PGA TOUR Latinoamérica. “The future for Mexican and other Latino players is bright, as this year alone we saw double the figures of Mexican Nationals playing on our Tour.”
Herewith, a rundown of the four local favorites at Mayakoba this week.
Abraham AncerAbraham Ancer has already contended for titles on the PGA TOUR. (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Ancer was born in McAllen, Texas, but grew up in Reynosa, Mexico, before playing for Odessa (Texas) Junior College and later Oklahoma. He is only 5 feet, 7 inches tall, but his stature was unrivaled among his countrymen last season. After finishing T9 at Mayakoba, he held late leads at the Quicken Loans National (final-round 72, T4) and Dell Technologies Championship (73, T7) and qualified for all but the last FedExCup Playoffs event.
He finished T5 at the CIMB Classic, and T4 at the Shriners.
“Just need to keep putting myself in that situation, and I’ve been able to do that lately,” he said. “I think my short game has been sharp; just a couple mistakes here and there that have kept me from, like, that top spot. But other than that, I’m very happy with my game.”
Jose de Jesus RodriguezJose de Jesus Rodriguez is famous for talking to his golf balls. (Michael Cohen/Getty Images)
The PGA TOUR Latinoamerica Player of the Year in 2017, de Jesus Rodriguez, 37, has won nearly 20 times in Mexico, twice in Columbia, and once in Paraguay. He was 12th on the Web.com Tour Regular Season money list last season, and cried after his TOUR card-clinching victory at the United Leasing and Finance Championship at Indiana’s Victoria National.
He is one of eight brothers.
“There’s 10 in my family,” he said. “Little house. Very difficult.”
His nickname, El Camaron (The Shrimp) came about because his face was red at birth and his grandmother thought he looked like one. He started as a caddie with a baseball grip; is now coached by his brother, Rosendo; and, perhaps most famously, talks to his golf balls.
“It’s good for me because it’s frustrating sometimes,” de Jesus Rodriguez said. “And when I talk to the ball I’m more relaxed, more patient. ‘Vamos, reyna (queen); vamos, hermosa (sister); vamos, Linda.’ I start at night: ‘Hey, tomorrow we start. Please get in the hole.’”
Roberto DiazRoberto Diaz has already had success at the Mayakoba Golf Classic. (Michael Cohen/Getty Images)
Diaz, who lives in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, shot a second-round 65 on the way to a T25 finish at Mayakoba last year. Alas, it was his only top-25 finish in 25 TOUR starts, which sent him back to the Web.com Tour Finals, where he reestablished himself.
The Veracruz native became the fourth Mexican to gain exempt status on TOUR for the 2018-2019 season upon the conclusion of the Web.com Tour Championship, where he tied for 17th to crack the top 25 on the Web.com Tour Finals money list.
“It’s a learning curve,” he said. “I learned a lot last year.”
Carlos OrtizCarlos Ortiz already has a T3 finish during the 2018-19 season. (Michael Cohen/Getty Images)
Results have been up and down the last four years, but when Ortiz shot a final-round 64 to finish T3 at the Sanderson Farms Championship two weeks ago, it marked his best result in 64 TOUR starts and recalled his Web.com Tour Player of the Year season of 2014.
The other big victory of late: Ortiz, who is based in Dallas, is a new father, to 5-month-old Sofia.
Ortiz spoke at the Sanderson of kids like Sofia not caring whether you shoot 65 or 75, so perhaps he’s feeling less pressure. Of the four Mexicans on TOUR, he added at Mayakoba, “I don’t think we have even reached the potential that this sport can have in this country.”