Gallegos, who shot 67 on Sunday, becomes first Argentine to Win the Latin America Amateur Championship
PLAYA DEL CARMEN, Mexico – Argentina’s Abel Gallegos used a devastating combination of power and panache to claim his country’s first victory at the Latin America Amateur Championship on Sunday, shooting a dazzling four-under-par 67 to win by four strokes at Mayakoba’s El Camaleón Golf Club. Mexico’s Aaron Terrazas inspired the home fans with a thrilling late charge and a 67 to finish runner-up, while Colombia’s Jose Vega shot 74 to take third place.
With the victory, the 17-year-old Gallegos becomes the second-youngest LAAC champion and earns exemptions into a pair of especially coveted tournaments: the 2020 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club in April and The 149th Open at Royal St George’s in July. He can also play in The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA amateur event for which he is eligible, including the final stage of qualifying for the 120th U.S. Open at Winged Foot.
“It was an amazing day,” Gallegos said. “It was difficult to get up in the morning, knowing I had all this pressure. … Last night, when I put my head on the pillow, I had all types of thoughts running through my head. But when I woke up, I stood up, I looked at myself in the mirror and I said, ‘You can do this. Let’s do it.’”
Gallegos, who hails from the small town of 25 de Mayo, about two hours outside of Buenos Aires, learned the game on a modest nine-hole course named Las Mulitas, or Little Mules, but will be the 14th Argentine and just the third amateur from Argentina to compete in the Masters Tournament.
Angel Cabrera, the Argentine legend who won the 2009 Masters, sent a message to Gallegos after the final round in which he offered his congratulations and added, “I will be waiting for you at the Masters so you can enjoy that great tournament.”
Gallegos smiled when told of Cabrera’s sentiment, saying, “He is a hero back home. To have him congratulate me, it is everything.”
Vega made a surge in the middle of the championship, shooting 65 in the second round on Friday to seize the lead and held it after a 72 on Saturday. A former college golfer at Bellevue University in Nebraksa, he now works as a regional director of sales for Trackman, a popular golf technology company. When he first made plans for this event, he actually scheduled a business meeting on Sunday morning.
Instead, he was squarely in the mix for the title. Vega made a valiant effort to hold off Gallegos’s charge, but a double-bogey on No. 14 after a wayward drive into the penalty area made a comeback all but impossible.
“I have seen a lot of good swings and a lot of good trajectories, and this kid is really good,” Vega said of Gallegos. “He is going to be a superstar and I hope he makes the cut in Augusta.”
After three days of high winds on the Riviera Maya, the conditions for the final round were more conducive to scoring. The field produced just 10 rounds under par in the first three days combined, but 12 players broke par on the last day including Terrazas, who played one group in front of the leaders and birdied three of his last six holes to apply some pressure.
“I’m extremely proud of myself,” Terrazas said. “At the beginning of the day, I just wanted to give myself a shot on the back nine of this tournament and I did that.”
Gallegos, however, couldn’t be caught. Starting the day two shots behind Vega, Gallegos made a slick par on the opening hole when he snaked an approach shot from out of the jungle up to the green while Vega bogeyed. Gallegos pulled level with a birdie on No. 3, then zoomed away from Vega and the rest of the field with masterful closing kick. Gallegos made just one double bogey all week and played his final 20 holes in six under par. He birdied the last hole to finish in style.
With Argentines having fallen just short of the title in two previous editions of the LAAC, there was a growing pressure for one of South America’s great golfing countries to finally win one.
“For me, it’s an immense pride,” he said. “To put my country up there with the best is something that makes me very proud. Hopefully, more Argentinians will go on to win this tournament in the future.”