Evans Scholar’s path leads to surreal day with Tiger Woods

You never know what experiences a scholarship will open and who you may meet along the way.

Take the case of Sarahi Ortiz.

The UO senior came here as part of the Evans Scholars Program, a rewarding yet demanding program that covers full tuition and housing to leading universities across the nation. To earn the prestigious scholarship, students must have caddied in high school and show outstanding records of academics and financial need.

In her role as president of the Evans Scholars chapter here, and as one of the program’s two top leaders nationwide, Ortiz was at the PGA Tour’s BMW Championship last summer along with other student representatives from the program’s 18 chapters.

Initially, when she was offered an opportunity to caddie for a pro golfer during a practice round at the championship, Ortiz was reluctant. She didn’t follow professional golf and worried she’d be awkward around a pro she didn’t know.

But her supervisor insisted, saying this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for her — and assuring her she knew this golfer. 

“She said, ‘Name one golfer you know,’ and I said Tiger Woods,” Ortiz said. “And she said, ‘Well ….’ My body froze, and I said, ‘OK, I’ll caddie for you guys, don’t worry.’”

The Evans Scholars Program is just one of many means of financial aid available to Ducks. The university awards $246 million to students every year, and about 65 percent of students receive some financial help.

“In our efforts to keep the University of Oregon affordable to students, the Office of Student Financial Aid and Scholarships administers many financial aid programs to assist our eligible Ducks with their cost of their education.” said Jim Brooks, associate vice president and director of financial aid. “That’s in addition to the countless outside programs that students also access, such as the Evans Scholars Program.”

Aid is not only available to incoming first-years but also transfer students, graduate and law students, and international students. In addition, other types of aid are available to students who qualify. The Office of Student Financial Aid & Scholarships is a great resource for more information, including scholarships that aren’t directly administered by the university, such as the Evans Scholarship.

And that scholarship was at the root of why Ortiz was now about to enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime experience that morning at the BMW Championship.

The nervous energy peaked the moment she picked up the bib all caddies wear that show their golfer’s name. There it was: Tiger Woods, arguably the greatest golfer of all time.

“I felt a rush of emotions,” Ortiz said. “I was like, I can’t believe I’m doing this; this is so surreal. I remember tearing up, thinking, this is happening; this is a big deal. How does one prepare to caddie for one of the greatest golfers in the world?

“Then Tiger came up, and he smiled, and as soon as he smiled, I was like, Oh, I’m good,” Ortiz recalled. “And all my nerves went flushing away.”

Woods, a Stanford alum, soon gave Ortiz grief after learning she was a Duck, but Ortiz had prompt retorts herself, putting her further at ease. Over the next 18 holes, they chatted about growing up in the Los Angeles area, college, how golf affected their lives and more.

For Ortiz, it was a fascinating view from “inside the ropes” at a golf tournament, watching the crowds follow and admire Woods. The round whizzed by, however, and her memory was a blur until she watched the video shot by the PGA Tour team that followed her every step of that memorable day, a day that was the culmination of a most unlikely journey.

Prior to the summer of her freshman year in high school, Ortiz not only had never caddied but she had never played golf before, and no one in her family was a golfer, either.

“The one thing I knew about golf was Tiger Woods, and that was about it,” she said.

Seeing that she was a motivated and engaged student, her high school principal suggested the program to her during her freshman year.

To better her odds of earning the scholarship, she applied and was accepted into the Caddie Academy, a seven-week program based in Illinois that’s run by the Western Golf Association, the same organization that administers the Evans Scholars Foundation. One of its aims is to grow the ranks of caddies and golfers with demographics that might not typically have easy access to the game.

Each summer she caddied at a country club outside of Chicago. It was hard work: arrive at the golf course by 7 a.m., six days a week, then carry a golf bag while walking about six miles and sometimes double that if she picked up another “loop.”

After going through the interview process during her senior year of high school, she was offered the scholarship. She knew she was bound for the UO; she loved the campus, the university had the right blend of academics she sought and it was a good distance from home.

But the financial help made all the difference. Without the scholarship, she would have taken another route toward a degree.

She lived in the Evans Scholars house on the southern edge of campus with 34 other scholars, all of whom have to maintain at least a 2.5 GPA to remain in good standing with the program. If anyone’s grades dip near that level, the program connects the scholar with chapter advisers who lend guidance. However, the average GPA is a 3.30.

Through her efforts — and likely also due to her ebullient personality — she helped grow the chapter from 24 scholars when she started to its current 36.

 “Sarahi is a great example of a student who has learned to enhance her own learning by coaching, encouraging and mentoring others,” said Amira Fahoum, one of the Evans program’s volunteer advisers who has worked with Ortiz during her time on campus.

She graduated in June with a degree in Spanish and hopes to land a job helping others like herself attend college, perhaps including golf.

“When I first started this journey, I never in a million years thought I would be here,” she said before graduation. “I was like, This is too much for me. But I had so many people supporting me, saying, no, you are so close, just get there. And I got there, and it’s completely changed my life.”

—By Jim Murez, University Communications