You know you've become somebody when Clint Eastwood calls you "Champ."|
"He made my day," Rock Island's Gregg Ontiveros chuckled, reflecting on Eastwood's famous movie line after the film star noticed him at Monday's AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am players' party.
"People definitely know who you are," Ontiveros said of the fame he has acquired from winning the Pebble Beach Pro-Am with PGA pro Brian Harman in 2012. "Out here, just making the cut is a big deal, so doing what we did was pretty special."
Ontiveros, a 17-handicap, and Harman scored a come-from-behind title share that was captured by national television. He and Harman trailed by three strokes heading into the final round, and wound up tied for the championship with pro Padraig Harrington and Irish businessman J.P. McManus.
The CEO of Group O in Milan, though, says there's zero pressure in carrying the mantel of defending champ, or, as Eastwood notes, just plain champ.
"Right now I don't think there's much pressure," said Ontiveros. "I tell people I'm out here to enjoy last year. During the practice round, the other three players all knew" that he had won the pro-am crown the year before.
"There are no expectations to win it again. There has never been a back-to-back winner here. Some have won it a couple of times, but never back to back."
And so, Ontiveros continues to bask in that glory of February 2012.
"Just getting out to that great start, with Brian at 6-under through nine holes, at 30, that set the tone to kind of get things going," Ontiveros recalled. "That kept us always near the top.
"On the final day, we started an hour and 10 minutes before the leaders and we were trailing by three strokes. But by the time they had teed off, we had birdied the first five holes and actually were 2 up by the time they started. I'm sure they were thinking that they had to go low."
Ontiveros brought back a brilliant trophy that still sits in his kitchen, reminding him of his and Harman's achievement.
And, now, they get to do it again, starting today.
"Brian is my partner, and I wanted to play again with Brian," Ontiveros said. "I would have been very very disappointed if I had not."
The return of the champs apparently had already been set prior to the pairings party.
"I would be happy if lightning struck twice. It was amazing. But that's not what I'm looking for or anticipating. I'm happy just to say hi to people that I've met. This is the best week of the year."
To that end, Ontiveros didn't even feel the need to improve his game, knowing he'd be back as a champ.
"I kind of wish I would have," he said. "I turned to the guys after we played (Tuesday) and said, 'Now you can obviously see that anyone can win this. I probably shot 100."
Even so, he returns to Pebble Beach with a lower handicap than he did when he won.
"I'll be a 16-handicap," Ontiveros related. "The tournament did that to me, for winning it. They're going to make it harder on you. Actually, if you made the cut, you lost one stroke automatically." Thus, the Rock Islander felt blessed that winning it didn't cost him additionally.
Ontiveros also doesn't get any additional leeway for turning 50 years on 12-12-12 – Dec. 12 of last year. Unlike the PGA Seniors Tour, there's no different classification for those hitting the half-century.
"To be quite honest," Ontiveros said, "I'm one of the youngest amateurs out here. It's like a whole senior division."