Mexico's goal at Copa de las Americas: Win it all

Fabiola Arriaga plays her tee shot on the first hole as seen during the first round of the 2013 Copa de las Americas at the Doral Golf Resort & Spa in Doral, Fla.

Editor's note: For our complete Copa de las Americas coverage, click here.

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DORAL, Fla. – Fabiola Arriaga and Gabriela Lopez set the real pace around Doral’s Blue Monster in the first round of the Copa de las Americas. Playing in twosomes with Guatemala, Mexico’s women were easily off the course in less than four hours. Playing in the third group off the first tee on Thursday morning, teammate Carlos Ortiz did some pace-setting of his own. His 4-under 68 held up as the lowest score in Round 1, by two shots.

By day’s end, Mexico was in fourth on the team leaderboard, only five shots behind leader Argentina.

“This is a really tough competition because every scorecard counts,” said Santiago Casado, Mexican National Coach. Among Mexico’s four scores was a 77 and an 80.

Casado states his team’s goal for the week as nothing less than a victory. There are several indicators among his four players of how golf is growing in Mexico. Of the 38 players in the field, 24 currently play or have played college golf in the U.S. Mexico is one of only three teams made up of four current collegians (Canada and the U.S. are, too).

Ortiz, a soft spoken senior at North Texas, also played for Mexico at the World Team Amateur in September. It was historic stuff in Antalya, Turkey, as he and teammates Rodolfo Cazaubon (also playing in the Copa) and Sebastian Vazquez finished second to the U.S., just five shots back. The country’s previous best finish at the World Team Amateur was fifth, which happened three times. Mexico has competed in every event since 1958.

“It was really special,” Ortiz said. “We were not surprised because we knew what we were capable of, but it was amazing. It was a great experience and we’re really proud of what we did. ... I think it’s going to bring a lot of support for golf, they’re putting their eye on golf.”

Ortiz has earned Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year three times in his career. Cazaubon, the 2010 Mexican Amateur champion and No. 42 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, also is a senior on the Mean Green roster.

“We have known each other since we were, like, 12, so I’m pretty comfortable around him,” Ortiz said.

The Mexican squad is an example of where golf in that country is going. College golf is a priority for players who aspire to reach the highest level of the game. Casado also credits some of Mexico’s recent success to players getting more involved with U.S. golf outlets like the AJGA and USGA.

“What happened in Turkey was huge for Mexican amateur golf," he said. "They proved that they can compete with the best players in the world and it’s an amazing example for our juniors.”

Lopez, the leading scorer at the University of Arkansas after her first semester, says playing college golf in the U.S. is a common goal. It provides a unique opportunity to get better, and is encouraged back home.

“It’s an easy way to improve academics and athletics,” she said, adding that there isn’t as much support for student athletes in Mexico.

She and Arriaga, who plays for Texas San Antonio, tried out for the squad Mexico sent to the Women’s World Amateur Team Championship in September. Both missed by only a few shots, which made the Copa a welcome opportunity to play for Mexico.

“It’s really special for me to represent my country and put this flag on my shirt,” Lopez said.

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