Roberto Diaz is on the cusp of the opportunity of the first 30 years of his lifetime.
The highest-ranking player from Mexico in the Official World Golf Rankings as of Feb. 20 is being granted an exemption into this week’s $9.75 million World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship, and that player just happens to be Diaz at No. 472.
The Mexico native and former six-year Myrtle Beach resident who moved from South Carolina in December to Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., is headed for one of the most significant paydays – if not the most significant payday – of his career Sunday regardless of how well he plays.
The 77-player tournament reserved for the world’s top-ranked players at Club de Golf Chapultepec in Mexico City this Thursday through Sunday has no cut, so every player is guaranteed a minimum of $43,250. A top-20 finish would earn Diaz at least $94,000, and a win pays $1.66 million. The Web.com Tour member has never earned more than $108,000 in any of his three-plus seasons on the PGA Tour’s feeder circuit.
“There have definitely been a lot of things going on in the last two or three weeks. It’s been a different vibe. It’s a big opportunity,” Diaz said on the phone Tuesday morning before an appearance on Golf Channel’s Morning Drive show.
“I definitely have nothing to lose,” he added. “I have no status on the PGA Tour so this is kind of like a bonus. I’m not going to go out there and just try to play. I’m going to try to compete. I turned pro in 2010 and it’s been a long road, so I’m going to try to enjoy every part of it.”
The Mexico Championship is the first WGC event to be played in Mexico, and Diaz will have plenty of friends and family in attendance.
“It’s definitely going to be fun. I’ll have a lot of responsibility to at least make a decent run at the tournament,” he said. “The main goal is to learn. The main goal is to see how these guys prepare and see how these guys do things around a golf tournament. I’ll try to soak everything in.”
The main goal is to learn. The main goal is to see how these guys prepare and see how these guys do things around a golf tournament. I’ll try to soak everything in.
He knows the golf course perhaps as well as anyone in the field, having played the course in 2014 on PGA Tour LatinoAmerica.
“It’s a very, very, very tight golf course with elevation and you don’t see a lot of those on the PGA Tour,” Diaz said. “It’s going to be interesting. I have no idea how the players will approach it and what they will hit off the tee. I had a pretty good two rounds here in 2014 and I know there are a lot of birdies out there. The greens are definitely faster and drier. They were bouncing a lot on Monday so it’s going to be a very good challenge.”
Diaz sat at No. 772 in the world rankings at the beginning of the year and moved up to 472 largely on a runner-up finish on Feb. 12 in the Web.com Tour’s Club Colombia Championship.
It would have been a win had it not been for a miracle shot.
Ethan Tracy trailed Diaz by two strokes heading to the par-5 18th hole and holed his third shot from 101 yards for an eagle, then prevailed with a birdie on the second playoff hole.
Diaz earned $75,600 for the runner-up and is fifth on the 2017 Web.com money list at $95,734 with three top-20 finishes in four starts.
His inability to win in Colombia nearly cost Diaz his spot in the WGC event.
His good friend and fellow Mexico native Abraham Ancer had a chance to pass Diaz in the rankings the next week with a tie for second or better at the Panama Claro Championship if Diaz finished outside the top 17. Diaz tied for 19th at 4-under 276 with a closing 66, but Ancer’s final-round 67 moved him up only two spots into fourth at 271.
The two players were roommates that week in Panama, and Ancer, who turned 26 on Monday and spent the bulk of the 2016 season on the PGA Tour, was 3 under for his round at the turn before shooting even par on the back nine. Diaz said he had a bottle of champagne waiting for Ancer if he won, as Ancer had a bottle of champagne ready for Diaz had he won in Colombia.
The exemption wasn’t broached in conversation between the two in Panama until the final round was over.
“It was an odd situation, but I was pulling as hard as possible for him, and he was pulling for me in Colombia when I was in that playoff,” Diaz said. “The goal for both of us is to get on the PGA Tour. The goal is not to play only one event, the goal is to play seasons out here. The goal is to compete and try to play 25 to 30 events a year.”
This week’s start will be Diaz’s fourth on the PGA Tour. The other three were all missed cuts at the OHL Classic at Mayakoba, a fall event played near Cancun, Mexico.
Though he expects to be nervous, Diaz doesn’t believe he’s out of his element in the prestigious WGC event.
“I think I’ve played enough around every tour, I’ve played against a bunch of guys here,” Diaz said. “I played a full year against Justin Thomas on the Web.com [Tour], I played a full year against Daniel Berger, I played in college against a couple guys here. It’s going to be definitely exciting. I prepare as much as they do, but it’s going to be something different.”
The USC-Aiken graduate from Veracruz, Mexico, lived in Myrtle Beach from 2010-2016 and trained out of the Greg Norman Champions Golf Academy at Barefoot Resort.
Diaz has gained some notoriety with his appearance in the WGC event.
Following interviews with The Sun News and Golf Channel on Tuesday, Diaz had interviews with the Mexican media, played nine holes, and joined Jordan Spieth for an Under Armor clinic and meet and greet for junior members of The First Tee Mexico.
He has a scheduled press conference along with Mexican officials on Wednesday afternoon following the press sessions of Coastal Carolina alumnus and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler.
Only a win can guarantee Diaz membership or more starts on the PGA Tour, though a sizable amount of world ranking points and non-member tour FedExCup points are available that can help him gain future playing opportunities or PGA Tour special membership.
“I’m not saying there’s not a chance, but obviously the odds are very much against me,” Diaz said. “It’s golf. Anything can happen. The second goal will be to try to control my nerves coming down the stretch if I’m in contention, to understand that the only way my life’s going to change and my career is going to change is if I win.”
Diaz’s Web.com Tour record
* Diaz earned an additional $10,986 in the four-event Web.com Tour Finals.