The second round of the Latin America Amateur Championship is underway and the wind is making scoring more challenging. Here’s the latest from Panama both on course and off.

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The second round is almost half complete at Club de Golf de Panama and Julian Perico, who is yet to go out, still heads the field. In strengthening winds, nobody among the early starters has reached his score of six-under-par. If Perico can fire a level par round this afternoon, he could still be in command at the halfway stage. Here’s what I’ve learned this morning in Panama.

Experience pays
Alvaro E. Ortiz of Costa Rica is one of the oldest players in the field at 48-years-old, but he showed that this tournament is not all about the youth, firing a brilliant 66 this morning. He’s 31 years older than current leader Perico and he first played this course 35 years ago but he drew on his knowledge of the layout and his skill in course management to post a superb score of four-under the par of 70.

Alvaro E. Ortiz

Alvaro E. Ortiz

“I’m not the longest hitter, but I stayed patient and I tried to make sure I kept the ball in the right places and I just kept it together today,” he said. “I might have grey hair now, I might get a little stiff but being on the leaderboard is enough right now. There is certainly a lot of work to do to stay there for Sunday.”

Ortiz has been Costa Rican amateur champion 25 times and 6 times Central American champion; he has now made the cut in all three instalments of the Latin America Amateur Championship.

Enjoying every minute
Something incredibly refreshing at this tournament is how enthusiastic, excited, friendly and engaged all the players are. If you stand on the edge of a fairway, almost every competitor will smile and say hello to you as they pass; they may even share a few words if they’re waiting to play a shot. The atmosphere here is one of pure enjoyment and that is great to see.

That enjoyment also carries through to those who are working here, and it’s evident in the journalists from Latin America sitting around me right now. Compared to the press tent at a European event where the general vibe is one of cynicism, doom and gloom, the media room here is full of excited chatter, laughter and even the odd cheer when a birdie is posted on the live leaderboard. This event is significant for golf in this part of the world and the journalists are fully aware of that. It means a great deal for a country to produce the champion, or to become the host nation. If only the British press could be so universally positive about golf.

Golf is a unifying game
Each golfer playing this week is keen to perform to the best of his ability; some hope to win, others to make the cut, others perhaps just to place better than they did last year. Each person is competitive though and wants to beat as many of the other entrants as possible. But you’d never know it from the way they act towards one another. There’s brilliant camaraderie amongst the players and, again, that is so cool to see. In what other sports could you assemble 100 young (or mostly young) players from 25+ different countries, pit them against one another for incredible prizes and see them laughing with one another, helping one another, generally being kind and decent to one another? Not many, if any, would be my thinking. Perhaps it’s because golf breeds humility and a generosity of spirit or perhaps they are just nice kids who have received good guidance. Probably it’s a bit of both.

The R&A works hard
Not enough people realise just how much the R&A does for golf across the world, and their involvement in this tournament is just a small piece of the jigsaw. But they are here and they are focused on growing the game – not just at the elite level but at the grass roots also.

Billy Payne, Martin Slumbers and Mike Davis

Billy Payne, Martin Slumbers and Mike Davis

Yesterday, in a press conference featuring the founding partners of the LAAC, Chief Executive of the R&A Martin Slumbers talked of the organisation’s commitment to grow the game with particular reference to this region.

“When you look at this championship, it is about the person who wins it, but it’s also about the others who compete and see where they are and what experience to they need to gain,” he said. “Over the years we have been in South America we have helped finance the building of golf facilities and driving ranges in six countries across Latin America. We have supported the South American Amateur since its inception and we have recently opened an office in Buenos Aires. We are keen to keep on building on the groundwork from grass roots up to the elite level.”

The amount of good work the R&A does around the world, representing Britain and golf, deserves more recognition.