PLAYA DEL CARMEN, MEXICO | A lot has changed since February 2007 when the PGA Tour came to Mexico to stage an opposite-field event.
Some changes can be measured in numbers, like how the purse of the Mayakoba Golf Classic has gone from $3.5 million to $7.2 million for this year — that is a very competitive number, more than two dozen other PGA Tour events on the calendar. And since 2013, the event has been held in November while no longer having to share the week with a high-profile Tour event. There’s a Masters invitation and full FedEx Cup points at stake now.
But it’s not strictly about numbers. During the opening ceremonies Tuesday, the grandstand on the first tee was packed with kids, many of them holding cutouts with the faces of their favorite players.
They have a lot of heroes to choose from now that there are four Mexican players with PGA Tour cards for the current season. A dozen years ago, that wasn’t the case.
“I feel really grateful to the people that put this together,” said home country favorite Carlos Ortiz, the former Web.com Tour money list winner who is making his 66th PGA Tour start. “They were the first ones to believe in golf in Mexico. They put this tournament on 10, 11 years ago and I think it talks of how much golf has grown since it happened.
“Back then there were no Mexican members on the PGA Tour. Now we have four, and the amount of people that are playing highly competitive golf from Mexico, it’s grown exponentially in the last few years.”
The four Mexican players hit a ceremonial drive off the first tee as a Mariachi band quickly followed them with upbeat music. As the national anthem played, they all sang along to the words and absorbed the special moment.
Perhaps nothing is more of a testament to Mexican golf than the ascension of Abraham Ancer, the first Mexican player to reach the top 100 of the world ranking. Ancer has already notched two top-five finishes this fall and took a lead through 54 holes in a FedEx Cup playoff event two months ago.
There is plenty of opportunity on the table moving forward. Ancer has a great opportunity to make the international Presidents Cup team and a PGA Tour victory would be the first for a Mexican since Victor Regalado won more than 40 years ago.
Imagine the outpouring of support if he got into contention this week.
“This is one of my favorite events,” Ancer said. “Even if it wasn’t in Mexico, it’s a great event. It’s a lot of fun, the food is incredible. People love it. And people, if they come the first time, they tend to come back and it’s always awesome playing in front of the Mexican crowds.”
Roberto Diaz, another of the Mexican contingent with PGA Tour status, has grown alongside the tournament. He received an exemption in 2014 and that has helped him progress into where he is today.
“They gave me the opportunity to play my first PGA Tour event here and I’m very thankful to come back here as a full member now,” Diaz said. “They knocked on my door and they said, ‘All right, you can do it.’ And then you start playing more and more and more, and finally you come in here as a member and you see everything different and how you see how everything started.”
Now the Mexican players are focused on possibly making the Olympics and raising the profile of their country’s golf even further. No matter the case, their rise — and the upcoming wave of Mexican talent — has been helped enormously by the tournament.