In its seven years of existence, in addition to promoting the growth of amateur golf in the region, the Latin America Amateur Championship (LAAC) has served as a launching pad for the careers of some of the best professional golfers in the world.
“I am very grateful to the LAAC for how it inflated my career and gave me so many opportunities to come to the United States to play in the Masters and grow in professional golf,” said Chilean Joaquin Niemann, winner of the 2018 LAAC in his country’s capital city and the current No. 30 player in the Official World Golf Ranking.
“The LAAC will also continue to be a giant boost for Chilean golf and for Latin American golf and has increased the number of Latin players competing in major tournaments such as the Masters, the U.S. Open and The Open,” added Niemann, who at 23 years old is already the best player in the history of Chilean golf.
“I have nice memories and being part of the first LAAC was very special for me,” said Colombian Sebastián Muñoz, now a PGA Tour champion. Múñoz, the 59th-ranked player in the world, finished tied for eighth place in the inaugural tournament in Argentina in 2015.
“I remember I was in the last group on Sunday and Augusta National Chairman Fred Ridley walked with me during a few holes. I have very cool memories of that tournament,” Múñoz said.
Mexico’s Álvaro Ortiz has bittersweet memories after being on the verge of victory on several occasions and finally conquering the LAAC at Casa de Campo in 2019. “My last appearance was in one of the best courses I have ever played, and it is a place where I was able to share the triumph with those who started the journey with me: my teammates and my coaches,” Ortiz said.
“Being able to close my amateur journey there with them was very nice and I think the LAAC contributed greatly to boost my professional career and give me the opportunity to experience the PGA Tour with invitations,” added Alvaro Ortiz, the brother of PGA Tour player Carlos Ortiz and the only LAAC winner to have made the cut at the Masters as an amateur.
Costa Rica’s Luis Gagne, now a rival of Álvaro Ortiz on PGA Tour Latinoamérica, remembers his duel with the Mexican on the last holes along the Caribbean at Teeth of the Dog, the Casa de Campo course that will once again host the LAAC in 2022.
“I think bogeying the 17th hole and not being able to receive an invitation to the Masters motivated me to train a lot harder. I really enjoyed the course and playing the LAAC was a fantastic experience,” said Gagne, who tied for top amateur at the 2018 U.S. Open in Shinnecock Hills.
Peru’s Luis Fernando Barco concluded his amateur career with a third-place finish at the 2019 LAAC in Casa de Campo. “I only have positive memories of the LAAC. I think they’ve done a very good job promoting golf in the region and it’s amazing to have the opportunity to play the Masters and The Open,” Barco said.
“Surely the LAAC motivated us to continue training and strive to represent your country at those important tournaments worldwide,” added Barco, the first Peruvian to compete in the U.S. Open (at Torrey Pines in 2021).
Dominican Juan José Guerra, who is also part of PGA Tour Latinoamérica, celebrates the return of the LAAC to Casa de Campo and what it has meant for golf in his country. “The LAAC has helped Dominican golf a lot. In 2016 we didn’t have enough players to complete the team and in 2019 we had to leave a lot of good golfers out,” said Guerra, another nascent Latin American golf star who has emerged from the LAAC.
For Guerra and the many players who have participated in the LAAC, the Latin America Amateur Championship has exceeded its goal of advancing the sport in that part of the world and creating heroes that other aspiring golfers would emulate to become a catalyst for future golf stars.