The story of the Mayakoba Golf Classic is one of a tournament which has been rewarded for setting very high standards. The Mexican based tournament was initially introduced on the PGA Tour as an alternate event to provide players who didn’t qualify for a place in the WGC Match Play with a tournament to play that week. The organisers at El Camaleon Golf Club and the PGA Tour were not content for this to be a secondary event though and those efforts paid off when it was promoted to full status in 2013, having only been first held in 2007.
The Mayakoba Golf Classic is now one of the first events of the PGA Tour season. Each November a strong field heads to Playa del Carmen for some winter sun and a tournament which carries a healthy prize fund, a two year exemption on the PGA Tour and other prizes for the winner such as an invitation to the Masters. It was the richest golf tournament in Mexico when it was founded and with prize money having since doubled the winner can now look forward to a cheque of almost $1.3m.
|2020||El Camaleon Golf Club||Viktor Hovland|
|2019||El Camaleon Golf Club||Brendon Todd|
|2018||El Camaleon Golf Club||Matt Kuchar|
|2017||El Camaleon Golf Club||Patton Kizzire|
2020: Viktor Hovland
At the age of just 23, Viktor Hovland is already the best male golfer in Norwegian history. His two wins on the PGA Tour have assured that, even though there is surely much, much more to come. Those two wins have also secured him a big following among golf fans everywhere, not just because he got the job done, but the style in which he did it.
Just like his maiden PGA Tour win, Hovland won the 2020 Mayakoba Classic thanks to a birdie on the final hole. After holing the winning putt from 10 feet, Hovland surprised many by suggesting that he doesn’t have the confidence in those big moments that he appears to. “I don’t really feel like I’m honestly very good about those pressure situations,” Hovland said. “I was just trying to match the speed with the line and it was just one of those times where it happened to go in.”
Focusing on the technical aspects of the job in hand is a great way of dealing with pressure. It’s something that Hovland has done on a longer term basis with his short game which was not up to the standards demanded by the PGA Tour. He’s started to put that right which is a worry for the rest of world golf as a better rounded Hovland is sure to win again and again. His victory here saw him move into the top 20 in the world rankings for the first time and his ranking has only improved since. A major is the next step for the Norwegian ace and it may not be too far away.
2019: Brendon Todd
If you are going to have to work an extra day it might as well be in a stunning setting. And playing for $1.3 million. That’s what Brendon Todd eventually won at El Camaleon Golf Club on the Monday finish to the 2019 Mayakoba Classic, his –20 total of 264 enough, eventually, for him to claim a win by a single shot over the chasing pack.
Weather delays and extra time were the final challenges of a very long and arduous journey for Todd. The 34-year-old had been in the depths of despair with his game over the past few years. From making just two cuts in 35 PGA Tour starts in one spell and full swing yips, Todd has weathered plenty of storms and come out the other side.
“It’s just amazing how fast this game can turn,” said Todd after finally seeing off the challenge of Vaughan Taylor, Adam Long and Carlos Ortiz, all of whom finished just one shot shy of his winning score of -20. "It turned fast in the wrong direction for me in 2015, it turned fast the other direction for me, so I'm enjoying it and I'm just going to keep grinding." The grind won’t stop but Todd does at least have job security for the following two years and a chance to shine on the biggest stages of all with a place in the Masters, PGA Championship and the Players Championship among the prizes he won in Mexico.
2018: Matt Kuchar
Some PGA Tour events are won in a blitz of birdies which blows the competition away. Matt Kuchar’s victory in the 2018 Mayakoba Classic was not one of these wins. The experienced American did most of his good work over the first three days of play – where he fired in a trio of superb rounds of 64, 64 and 65 – before just about hanging on to finish one shot clear of Danny Lee for his eighth career PGA Tour victory.
Kuchar is a regular contender for PGA Tour titles so it was easy to forget that this was his first win since the 2014 RBC Heritage. As painful as that winless run has been for him, it served to make the win all the sweeter. “It feels extra sweet having kind of had to suffer through a year of not playing great in 2018,” Kuchar said afterwards. “Being four years removed since my last victory I realise how difficult it is to win on the PGA Tour.” Even sweeter was the fact that his winning score of -22 set a new tournament record.
That difficulty is both technical and mental. The pressure of trying to see out the win clearly affected Kuchar on Sunday as he was scratchy at best. He was also without his regular caddie John Wood who would have helped to calm him down and stick to the process. In the end, Kuchar just about did enough to the delight both of himself and club caddie, David Ortiz, who was emotional on the final green.
Positive emotion soon gave way to negative for Ortiz though, who had expected to see his bank balance boosted considerably following the win. He may not have been expecting to receive the typical 10% a caddy gets, but Ortiz and many in the game certainly felt $5,000 was a little tight on Kuch’s behalf. After seemingly putting Ortiz and his financial situation down, Kuchar eventually came good and paid the stand-in caddie the $50,000 he had felt was fair. All is well that ends well!
2017: Patton Kizzire
Getting over the line for the first time on the PGA Tour is a landmark moment for any professional golfer. It is the culmination of a huge amount of hard work but rarely has a player had to work as hard on the actual day of their first win as Patton Kizzire. Weather delays earlier in the tournament forced Kizzire to play 36 holes on Sunday at El Camaleon Golf Club. He was up to the task though, holding off multiple PGA Tour winner Rickie Fowler to win by one shot.
The sheer effort required to play two rounds of top level golf in one day meant that Kizzire was never going to be perfect on Sunday. For all that he took his scoring chances well, it was his ability to wriggle out of trouble time and time again that ultimately made the difference. If just one of his string of pars had slipped to a bogey Kizzire would have had to face a playoff against an in-form and strongly finishing Rickie Fowler.
“It means a lot, I’m pretty excited right now, pretty emotional and I was glad to get it done,” said Kizzire afterwards. “Rickie made me work hard.” For Fowler, the quality of his golf late on was a plus but he was ultimately frustrated to finish second for the third time in his last 11 starts.