CHARLOTTE – As Alvaro Ortiz prepared to tee off in his first Pro-Am tourney as a professional golfer during the Wells Fargo Championship on April 29 at Quail Hollow Club, he received a tip from Stephanie Rivera.
Ortiz, who turned pro after tying for 36th at the Masters Tournament in early April, didn’t get any golf advice from Rivera. She just informed Ortiz that her caddy for the pro-am, Ron, was her husband and happens to coach the Carolina Panthers.
“I actually didn’t know he was the Panthers’ coach,” Ortiz said. “His wife told me and I was like, ‘Oh.’ We talked a little bit about his career as a football player and now as a coach. I picked his brain on some stuff. He is such a nice person. It was fun to walk with him and talk to him.”
Ortiz is in the field in south Charlotte thanks to receiving a sponsor’s exemption, which came after being the second-lowest scoring amateur at the Masters. The Wells Fargo Championship begins May 2 and ends May 5. Ortiz qualified for the Masters by winning the Latin American Amateur Championship back in January. He turned professional the day after the Masters.
But that is when the waiting started. Without tour privileges, the only way Ortiz could get to the big stage quickly was to get a sponsor’s exemption into an event. That call from Quail Hollow came two weeks ago.
“This is my debut, and I was excited to get that call,” Ortiz said after recording a tap-in birdie on No. 18. “It’s been a fun ride, and it has been interesting the last few months. I turned pro the Monday after the Masters and I had been waiting for that call to see where I would debut. I’m just thankful that it is going to be here. I have prepared mentally and physically for this.”
Ortiz said that he has been met with open arms by Quail Hollow President Johnny Harris and Wells Fargo.
“Mr. Harris and everybody, has been very welcoming,” Ortiz said. “I’m thankful for this opportunity, and I hope I can take advantage of it.”
With that advance notice, Ortiz arrived in Charlotte last week and played Quail Hollow twice before the pro-am on April 29. He said Quail Hollow is similar to Augusta National, where the Masters is played.
“The conditions are spectacular,” Ortiz said. “Everything is perfect, from the fairways to the greens. I like the layout, and I think it suits my game. The greens are tough, and I think that is the strongest part of my game. The harder the greens, the better it is for me.’’
Ortiz, 23, said the key to success at Quail Hollow is surviving the three closing holes, which is aptly named the Green Mile. The par 4 No. 16 and No. 18 holes are both 506 yards in length while the par 3 No. 17 hole measures 223 yards.
“It is probably one of the toughest stretches that I have played in my entire life,” Ortiz said. “No. 16 is a monster where you have to hit a perfect drive. No. 17, there is water and it is intimidating, and the up-and-down from the right side is not easy. No. 18 is a monster and it is one of the best finishing holes I have played in my entire life. Going even par on the last three holes will go a long way.”
Ortiz’s older brother, Carlos, who has a PGA Tour card, is also in Charlotte for the Wells Fargo. Carlos Ortiz, 28, has two top 10 finishes this season and has earned almost $600,000.
“This is going to be special making my debut alongside my brother,” Ortiz said. “I have been competing with him my whole life. I’m excited to finally compete against him in a tournament that matters.”
Ortiz was the first Mexican golfer to play in the Masters since 1979 and the former University of Arkansas product said it was a week he will never forget. Ortiz finished at 2-under par and he would have won $55,488 if he had been a professional.
“It was unbelievable,” Ortiz said. “From the fans, to the members, to the food, it was an unforgettable experience. I had a great time with my family and my friends.”
Ortiz has also watched a little golf since arriving in the Queen City. On April 28, Ortiz watched Arkansas win its first SEC championship since 1995. Ortiz graduated from Arkansas last May with a degree in international business.
“I was so excited,” Ortiz said. “I almost cried watching my former teammates win. I know all the guys on the team, and I am close to them. To watch them struggle this spring and then to come out and do that, it was really special. It just shows that hard work and dedication pays off.”
Now, Ortiz is shooting for a win of his own starting May 2.