BY PEDRO BENITEZ-CRESPO
The World Wide Technology (WWT) Golf Championship arrived in Los Cabos, celebrating its 17th edition as the pioneer of the PGA Tour in Mexico, from October 30 to November 5, opening a new chapter in its rich history.
The WWT Golf Championship made golf history in 2007 when it became the first PGA Tour event to be contested outside the United States and Canada, and this year it found its new home at El Cardonal Golf Club, the first course designed by TGR Design, Tiger Woods’ firm. Since this was the first time that his course hosted a PGA Tour tournament, Woods himself made a surprise appearance in Los Cabos at the opening ceremony of the event.
The field of 132 players had the participation of nine Latin Americans, including Argentine Emiliano Grillo and Colombian Nico Echavarría, winners this season, of the Charles Schwab Challenge and the Puerto Rico Open, in this respective order. Thanks to these victories, both players secured their cards for this competition and the FedEx Cup Fall in a more relaxed way.
“It’s an interesting week, it has been an interesting fall,” said Grillo, who made his fourth appearance of the fall after reaching the Tour Championship in late August. “I’m not playing for points, but it has been nice not to have to worry about anything and to be able to bring my family to Cabo and just enjoy.”
On the contrary, his countryman, Estanislao “Tano” Goya arrived with a sense of urgency. In place 163 of the ranking, the Cordoban needed to add the points that would put him among the top 125 to ensure the full card for 2024 or the top 150 that would have achieved him at least conditional status for the following campaign. “I have to continue doing the work, doing so a little more aggressively and with the desire to be able to save the card for next year,” said Goya, who made his debut in this event.
With only three tournaments left to play in the season, the other Latinos who played in this cup was the Argentine Augusto Núñez, who came in 176th, and the Colombian Camilo Villegas, in the 223rd place, but who was considered one of the favorites for the title.
The rest of the Latin contingent was completed by the four Mexican players who received invitations: Roberto “Bobby” Díaz, former PGA Tour player and member of the Korn Ferry Tour, Isidro Benítez, member of the PGA Tour Americas, Sebastián Vázquez, member of the Professional Tour from Mexico, and the outstanding amateur José Cristóbal Islas, who last August reached the quarterfinals of the U.S. Amateur Championship.
“I’m having a good year this 2023, I think it is an example of the work I have done with my team and I am very excited and happy to have played here,” said Islas, the promising 20-year-old amateur who made the third appearance of his career on the PGA Tour after two appearances in the Mexico Open.
Playing for the first time on a course designed by Tiger Woods was a source of conversation among the participants throughout the entire tournament. “It is a blast, it has very good holes and I think that the distance factor is not going to be as significant as the wind and day conditions factor. As long as there is wind, the course will be well protected, but without wind, it can be very accessible,” said Bobby Díaz about El Cardonal; a 7,452-yard, par-72 golf course designed by the legendary American golfer and influenced by the old-style courses of Southern California, where Tiger grew up playing. It is said, he created a course that recaptures the need for strategy in golf, with several options for navigating each hole. The course is long enough to challenge expert players but open enough to offer options to players with higher handicaps. It really is a fun test for golfers of all levels.
During the opening ceremony at the press conference, we were able to speak to several personalities, which include Jim Kavanaugh, CEO and co-founder of World Wide Technology, Tyler Dennis, President of the PGA Tour, Michael Abbott, Sr. Vice President of Operations at Diamante and Joe Mazzeo, the tournament director, amongst others. The opening was also attended by Ken Jowdy, CEO and Founder of Legacy Properties, developer, and owner of Diamante.
After several days of competition, not even the best scriptwriter could have devised the outcome of the tournament, where South African golfer Erik van Rooyen was proclaimed champion in a battle that was defined at the last stroke with an eagle on the 18th hole. The Johannesburg native overcame the American, Mathew Kuchar and the Colombian, Camilo Villegas who were both considered the favorites for the title. The 33-year-old arrived tied with Kuchar on the 18th hole of the majestic course of El Cardonal, while the American made par and dropped to third place.
The first round was accompanied by two birdies, however, the best awaited in the final part. Six birdies and an eagle on the last hole as the finishing touch for van Rooyen to sign his second victory on the PGA Tour. “This victory is the sweetest of my career. The first time was great, but I needed to prove to myself that I could win again,” said Rooyen after lifting the trophy inspired by The Arch of Los Cabos.
The WWT Golf Championship has once again proven to be a testament to the enduring spirit of the game, where talent, dedication, and sportsmanship shone brightly on the greens. As the fairways echo with the cheers of fans and the clinks of clubs, this event stood as a symbol of the unwavering love for golf that unites players and enthusiasts alike. It was a remarkable showcase of skill, determination, and passion, reminding us all why golf is truly a game like no other.