AUGUSTA, Ga. (Reuters) - The Mexican flag has been waving proudly at Augusta National with amateur Alvaro Ortiz taking the baton from Maria Fassi and carrying it into this week’s Masters with his eyes on a Green Jacket.
After a four-decade absence, Augusta National is getting a fresh taste of Latin flair served up by a new generation of Mexican golfers primed to battle for titles.
Fassi provided Ortiz with a tough act to follow by finishing runner-up to Jennifer Kupcho in the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur after a stirring back-nine battle with the American on Saturday.
Now Ortiz steps into the spotlight as he becomes the first player from his country since Victor Regalado in 1979 to play at the Masters and only the second Mexican amateur following Juan Antonio Estrada who featured at Augusta from 1962-64.
The determined Ortiz finished runner-up in the two previous Latin America Amateur Championship tournaments before this year claiming the title and his Masters invite at the third attempt.
“It was a huge deal for my family and me for sure and the whole country,” said Ortiz, who will turn professional immediately after the Masters. “When I came back to Mexico after winning, it was all cheers and people were so happy.
“People were so proud that I was going to be able to put a Mexican flag up there.”
Ortiz said he had received plenty of advice ahead of Thursday’s opening round with most people telling him to relax and enjoy the experience.
But the 23-year-old, showing no fear and more than a little cockiness, said he would be trying to win a Green Jacket like everyone else, although admitting if given a chance to sign for a top 10 right now he would take it.
“In my mind, I’m out here to compete and I want the Green Jacket,” he said. “I think every player is thinking like that.
“Of course, winning the low amateur would be nice,” he said referring to the Silver Cup awarded to the lowest amateur to make the cut.
“Making the cut would be a really good finish too but if you give me a top 10 right now, I’ll sign it for sure.”
While a top 10 finish would guarantee a Masters invite next year, Ortiz is soaking up every moment of his experience now.
He will spend Monday night in the Crow’s Nest above the Augusta National clubhouse, where amateurs have traditionally slept, and promised to bite into the local delicacy — a pimento cheese sandwich — at some point.
“Yeah, everybody was talking about that,” Ortiz said with a smile. “Actually, I received more arguments about the... chicken barbecue sandwich, which I think is pretty good. I already tried that one, but I’ll have to try the pimento cheese.”
Editing by Ken Ferris