Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Ortiz wins Junior-Junior

Jonathan Ortiz of Philmont CC defeated Zachary Dilcher of Hartefeld National, 4&2 to win the 2006 Junior-Junior Boys' Championship Wednesday at Woodbury CC.

That was Wednesday. But you could see this kid coming a mile off. Here's a story I did about him four
years ago.

A star rises in Kensington
Jonathan Ortiz, 9, emerged as best in a contest for about 6,000 children.

By Joe Logan

As well as he already plays golf, ask Jonathan Ortiz what he wants to be when he grows up and you'll hear no mention of being the next you-know-who. "I want to be on top of the world - in golf circles," said Jonathan, who lives in the Kensington section of the city and is a fourth grader at Visitation School.

He's off to a good start.

Two weeks ago in Orlando, Fla., Jonathan smashed a 159-yard drive, nestled a couple of chip shots oh-so-close to the hole, and sank putts of 7 and 20 feet to win the national title from among about 6,000 hopefuls in the 7- to 8-year-old age group in the Golf Channel's annual Drive, Chip & Putt Junior Golf Skills competition. Add that honor - along with the handsome Waterford crystal bowl that came with it - to Jonathan's impressive and fast-growing array of almost 60 trophies from junior tournaments here at home and as far away as Florida and California and it's clear this boy has a knack for the game.

"This kid is special," said Chris Eck, co-owner and teaching pro at Experienced Golf Center in Fort Washington, where he works weekly with Jonathan.
"I teach Jonathan as if he were a 20-year-old, because he already has the attention span and desire to learn and listen and perform as an adult. Honestly, he has what it takes to make it to the PGA Tour. "

As Eck spoke one evening last week, 9-year-old Jonathan pumped ball after ball into a net, showing off a compact, well-honed swing that seems equal parts hard work and natural athletic ability.

"You see that move?" said Eck, proud that Jonathan already demonstrates a kind of body control that most young golfers don't master until much later in their development. It was Jonathan's stepfather, David Brice, a guard at Graterford Prison, who first put a club in the youngster's hands. Inspired, as so many others were, by Tiger Woods' amazing 12-shot win in the 1997 Masters, Brice rushed to the closest driving range he could find. Jonathan, not yet 4, tagged along.

As Brice pounded balls, he couldn't help but notice that young Jonathan, hitting from the next mat at the range, had a pretty good little swing of his own. They came back to the range again and again.

Almost two years ago, Brice and Jonathan met Eck by chance when they stopped by his booth at the annual winter golf show at the Fort Washington Expo Center. Before long, Jonathan had a new friend and teacher in Eck, as well as a place to practice.

For Brice, the struggle has become how to finance Jonathan's golfing quest, which this year took him to 33 tournaments (in which he earned 16 first-place trophies, nine seconds and four thirds) up and down the East Coast.

"We are poor - at least we don't have money compared to the other kids traveling this circuit," said Brice, who is married to Jonathan's mother, Nydia Vasquez. Vasquez works in a medical records office. Jonathan's 12-year-old sister also lives with the family in Kensington.
Brice estimates he dug into the family coffers for about $6,000 this year. Another $6,000 came from a benefactor, Joe Corcoran, a businessman whom Brice met while he was caddying in an outing at Philadelphia Country Club.

"As far as I'm concerned, Joe Corcoran walks on water," Brice said. "Believe it or not, there are some good people in this world, and he has a big heart. This guy has seven kids of his own. "

Who knows what next season holds for Jonathan. Now it's time for a little downtime, a couple of weeks of rest and relaxation. Then it's back to work, getting ready for next season. "This year was a big test for us," said Brice, who not only had to juggle the finances but also time off from work. (The inmates at Graterford follow Jonathan's exploits through Brice. ) "I think he'll stay with it."

Jonathan didn't hear his father. He was too busy hitting balls.

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