Ancer returns to Chapultepec to represent Mexico
Abraham Ancer doesn’t remember the result, but he’s seen the photo that proves he competed at Golf Club de Chapulteptec around the age of 8 years old.
Nearly two decades later, he’ll return to play in the biggest tournament of his career, the World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship. Ancer straddled the U.S. border in the intervening decades before taking a rare route to the PGA TOUR.
Ancer was recruited sight unseen to his first school, a junior college in west Texas, then discovered by a desperate, first-year Division I coach who’d come to recruit another player at an event outside Dallas.
Ancer, who lived in Reynosa, Mexico, until high school, is among the minority of PGA TOUR players who played at a junior college. PGA TOUR winners Chad Campbell, Bubba Watson, Boo Weekley and Robert Garrigus also spent time at two-year schools, but they are the exceptions (Paul Azinger went to Brevard Junior College before winning the 1993 PGA Championship, as well). Most TOUR players matriculate in elite junior and amateur competition before turning pro.
Ancer is competing in the Mexico Championship as the world’s highest-ranked Mexican player. The second-year TOUR player is ranked 260th in the Official World Golf Ranking. He’s competing this week against the likes of World No. 1 Dustin Johnson, the defending champion, and reigning FedExCup champion Justin Thomas.
He’s come a long way since the first time he encountered players of that ilk. It was two years ago, as he was hitting balls on the driving range at Torrey Pines during one of his first tournaments as a PGA TOUR member. During his pre-shot routine, he stepped back from his ball, only to see Johnson, Jason Day and Justin Rose hitting balls next to him.
“I was like, ‘Holy (expletive),’” he said. That first year on the PGA TOUR was a rough one. He’d clinched his card the previous July with his win at the Web.com Tour’s Nova Scotia Open. Like so many players making the leap to a new level, Ancer thought he should change his game before he arrived on the PGA TOUR Ancer, who’s listed at 5-foot-6 and 170 pounds, changed his swing and his equipment to hit the ball higher.
“I lost my swing. I got all messed up,” said Ancer, who’s never had a swing coach. He missed the cut in 13 of 19 starts and finished 190th in the FedExCup.
“That year was pretty rough,” Ancer said. “It’s a big show. It can get pretty dark real quick if you’re not playing well and kind of lost.”
Ancer used the help of another Mexican pro, Jaime Gomez, to get his game back on the right track. Gomez, who won on the Web.com Tour and played on the PGA TOUR, gave Ancer the simple, but sage, advice to stick with what got him to the TOUR. Ancer needed just one Web.com Tour season to earn his card back. Three runner-up finishes helped Ancer finish in the top 25 of the Web.com Tour’s Regular Season money list in 2017.
In 10 starts this season, Ancer already has equaled the number of cuts he made in 2016 and posted more top-25 finishes. He’s played the weekend six times, including a T9 at the other PGA TOUR event in his home country, the OHL Classic at Mayakoba. He also finished 20th at the Farmers Insurance Open, the same event where two years ago he was intimidated by the star power on the driving range.
“I feel good out here,” he said. “I feel like I belong.”
Ryan Hybl, who coached Ancer at Oklahoma isn’t surprised that the former All-American for the Sooners is having more success in his second time around.
“Abe is a creature of habit,” Hybl said. “When he got his TOUR card, I don’t know his game was ready and I don’t know if he was comfortable, knowing his game wasn’t ready for that. His game is continuing to progress.”
Many of the TOUR’s top young players have been competing against each other since high school, or earlier. Ancer, 26, lived in Mexico until moving to the United States in high school, when violence in his hometown of Reynosa made it too dangerous to drive to the golf course. He starred at Sharyland High School in Mission, Texas, near the southeastern tip of Texas. He didn’t have a Division I scholarship offer coming out of high school, though.
“I didn’t know what I was going to do,” Ancer said.
A phone call from Odessa Junior College’s head coach, Paul Chavez, changed his career trajectory. Odessa, Texas, may be best known by golf fans for its brief mention in “Tin Cup” – it’s the site of a Waffle House beloved by the protagonist and his friends – but it also is where Ancer starred in junior college to earn a Division I college scholarship. Ancer won six times in his freshman season and won the Jack Nicklaus Award as the top junior college player in the nation. Ancer’s freshman season at Odessa corresponded with Ryan Hybl’s first season as the head coach at Oklahoma.
“We were beating the bushes everywhere to find players,” Hybl said. “The tournament where I saw him, he was on my list but he wasn’t really the guy I was there to watch. I couldn’t keep my eyes off him. He had that swagger about him, that he … knew he was the best one there.”
Hybl said it’s extremely rare for a junior-college player to earn All-American honors, let alone make it to the PGA TOUR. “You’re looking for someone to come in and fill a spot,” Hybl said. “When I saw him, I thought he could be our No. 1 player.”
Paul Chavez, who’s been the head coach at Odessa Junior College for more than two decades, is in the Golf Coaches Association of America Hall of Fame after leading the Wranglers to three national titles, but Ancer is his first player to make it to the PGA TOUR.
“The mental side is what got him over the top,” Chavez said.
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