Argentina Sees Best Chance for First Champion in Abel Gallegos

PLAYA DEL CARMEN, Mexico – Earlier this week, Argentina’s Mateo Fernandez de Oliveira was asked in a press conference about why his country – which is regularly one of the top performers at the Latin America Amateur Championship (LAAC) – hasn’t yet been able to claim a victory in the region’s top amateur event.

Fernandez, who is a 20-year-old freshman at Texas Christian University playing in his third LAAC, talked about experience and opportunities and the importance of a little luck. Then he shrugged and said, “I think one of us is going to get it soon.”

He may well be right. With four of the top 15 and six of the top 25 places on the leaderboard occupied by Argentines going into Sunday’s final round at Mayakoba’s El Camaleon Golf Club, the opportunity will certainly be there. Abel Gallegos, a 17-year-old who was the top-ranked junior in Argentina last year, will start with the best chance: he sits at even par, two shots behind leader, Jose Vega.

Gallegos is hardly alone, though. Horacio Carbonetti (eighth place), Segundo Olivo Pinto (12th), Andy Schonbaum (tied 14th), Jesus Montenegro (tied 18th) and Fernandez (tied 24th) are also in the mix.

Three of the top Argentine players here – Carbonetti, Schonbaum and Oliva Pinto – hail from Cordoba, which also produced professional stars Angel Cabrera and Eduardo Romero. Now, that group is hoping to standout on their own.

“You just need a good week,” Carbonetti said, referencing the close calls that Jaime Lopez Rivarola (tied for 3rd in 2018) and Alejandro Tosti (tied for third in 2016) recorded. “They were close. This year at least we have more players on top.”

Argentina holds a special place in LAAC history, as its federation was critical in launching the tournament and it hosted the inaugural edition at Pilar Golf in Buenos Aires in 2015.

Mark Lawrie, who was the longtime executive director of Argentina’s golf federation before becoming The R&A’s Director – Latin America and Caribbean, said, “The Argentinian players have energized the championship from the beginning.”

He added: “In part, because of the tradition, they always focused on delivering their best performance, and maybe put too much pressure on themselves.”

That does not seem to be a problem for Gallegos, whose imposing size and soft touch have made him, as Lawrie said, “a great project of a player with enormous power.” Gallegos finished sixth at the Junior Orange Bowl earlier this month and is well-aware of the expectations surrounding both him and his country at the LAAC, but refuses to get wrapped up in them.

“I have the possibility of winning in mind,” he said, “(and) it matters, but my real goal is to have fun until the end.”

He continued: “There is a large number of good players in Argentina and we just need to press the right key (at the LAAC). That’s golf.”