After its cancellation in 2021 due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, the imminent return of the Latin America Amateur Championship (LAAC) this January is generating a lot of excitement for the competitors who gather annually at this “major” for the best amateurs of the region.
This seventh edition of the LAAC is also cause for celebration and anticipation for its founders, the Masters Tournament, The R&A and the USGA. The three founding institutions bear witness to the impact of this competition in South America, Central America, Mexico, and the Caribbean, and the success of the LAAC Alumni at their respective majors: the Masters, The Open and the U.S. Open.
The LAAC champion receives an invitation to the Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club and, since 2020, an exemption into The Open Championship. The winner also receives full exemptions into The Amateur Championship, U.S. Amateur Championship and any other USGA amateur championship for which he is eligible and is exempt into the final stage of qualifying for the U.S. Open Championship. Runner(s)-up are exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The Open and the U.S. Open Championship.
Since his victory at the 2017 LAAC in his home country, Chilean Joaquín Niemann, now the 31st-ranked player in the world, has competed in two Masters, two Open Championships, and three U.S. Open Championships. He made the cut in all of them in 2021. The last winner of the LAAC in 2020, 19-year-old Argentine Abel Gallegos, has already participated in two majors (Masters 2020 and The Open 2021).
Gallegos once again will be part of the LAAC field, featuring 108 of the best amateurs in the region and another past-winner, Paul Chaplet from Costa Rica. Chaplet won the second edition of the Latin America Amateur Championship in 2016 at the Teeth of the Dog Course at Casa de Campo, Dominican Republic, which will host the LAAC for the third time January 20-23, 2022.
In 2019, the finishing holes of Teeth of the Dog along the Caribbean were the backdrop of a thrilling duel between Costa Rican Luis Gagne and Mexican Alvaro Ortiz. Ortiz prevailed and later became the first amateur champion of the LAAC to make the cut at Augusta National.
After several close calls, it was the first victory for Mexico at the LAAC, an event so far dominated by Chile, with three winners (Matias Domínguez, 2015; Toto Gana, 2017; Niemann, 2018). The other three winners (and a number of runners-up) came from Mexico, Argentina, and Costa Rica.
However, many participants from the other 25 nations represented at the LAAC have the level of experience and ability needed to challenge the dominance of the four winning countries, though Argentine Arkansas Razorbacks star, Mateo Fernández de Oliveira, is the favorite on paper as the highest-ranked player in the field (43rd in the World Amateur Golf Ranking).
Panamanian Omar Tejeira Jaen (62nd), Brazilian Andrey Borges Xavier (80th) and Peruvian Julián Pericó (100th), who made it to the Round of 32 at the 2020 U.S. Amateur, are clear contenders in a field where WAGR and college golf exploits are not the only indicators of success.
Three of the four Puerto Ricans in the field have had a chance to measure their skills against some of the best in the world at the PGA Tour’s Puerto Rico Open. Erick Morales finished T55 in 2015 and his countrymen Roberto Nieves and Jerónimo Esteve have also competed at the PGA TOUR event.
The Latin America Amateur Championship will again provide an opportunity for all the contenders, from 14-year-old Paraguayan Ezequiel Cabrera to 53-year-old Costa Rican veteran Álvaro Ortiz. In January 2022, Casa de Campo will finally reunite the amateur golf family from the region after a long gap year.