Fergus Bisset takes a look at some of the leading contenders for the Latin America Amateur Championship at Pilar Golf in Buenos Aires

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There’s just a day to go until the best amateur golfers in Latin America will tee it up to do battle for the Latin America Amateur Championship at Pilar Golf in Buenos Aires.

You can sense the excitement building amongst the golfers here. I just took a walk out onto the course to see some of the talented players practising and the sense of nervous anticipation is palpable.

It must be an incredible thrill for these (mainly) young men to experience the atmosphere of a tournament of this stature. To have a dedicated caddy, free fruit and water at the starter’s hut, guys putting the finishing touches to the TV wiring on the way round, suspicious characters like me hanging about in shady spots taking notes… well perhaps not the latter, but you get the drift.

Just watching a small selection of groups on the course this morning, gave a good indication of the strength in depth there is in this tournament and, moreover, in amateur golf generally.

I stopped to watch a group of Chilean players firing their approaches into the 1st. It’s a testing par-4 of 425 yards, turning slightly from left to right. The first thing I noted was how far up their drives were; the furthest back had no more than 140 yards left. They then fired their second shots off in quick succession. I scanned the blue sky, following balls as they fizzed in to the green. Each grabbed beautifully on the soft putting surface and checked up. I chuckled as the fourth ball landed and spun back to within six feet of the cup. Neither players, nor caddies looked remotely surprised that all four men were within 15 feet of the pin.

Here’s a look at some of the leading contenders this week at Pilar:

Guillermo Pereira

The Chilean team can boast the highest ranked player in field this week. Guillermo Pereira from Santiago is currently 6th on the World Amateur Golf Ranking (WAGR.) He’s a first year student at Texas Tech and has already made a name for himself on the College circuit in the USA. He enjoyed an excellent 2014 before starting in Texas, winning six tournaments in the first half of the year.

Pereira began playing golf aged 3 with a set of plastic clubs. He played his first tournament aged 6 and was enjoying success at home and in the USA by the time he was 8.

“When I heard about this tournament I was impressed by the great opportunity. I think it is extremely important for South American golf,” he said.
“For sure it is a high level event and a very coveted prize. The tournament also grants those people that rarely play outside their countries the possibility of playing in the United States or Europe.”

Jorge Garcia

The second highest ranked player in the field this week is Jorge Garcia, the Venezuelan is 38th on the WAGR. He’s only 18, but has already enjoyed some significant results. In 2014 he won the TaylorMade-Adidas Golf Junior at Innisbrook hosted by Sean O’Hair, and he also took victory in the Toyota Junior World Cup.

Garcia took up golf when he was just 4: he and his family played at Los Chaguaramos Golf & Club close to their home. But the club closed when he was only 9 and it looked as though his golf career might have come to a premature end. But his family decided Garcia should continue and moved him to USA where he has been ever since.

“To play The Masters is a dream for me, it’s the one I like most out of the four, and having the chance to play in it is amazing,” he said. “When I watched the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship I thought it would be great to have that kind of event in our region. Now it’s a reality and we must take full advantage of this opportunity.”

Jose Mendez

From Costa Rica, Mendez is 40th in the WAGR and is in his second year at the University of Minnesota. Three-time Central American Junior champion, he has now won three times on the US Collegiate circuit. He’s a very consistent performer, having finished in the top-20 in his last 13 College starts.

Alejandro Tosti

Tosti is the highest ranked home player in the field this week, 64th on the WAGR. Born in Rosario, Tosti began playing golf when he was 6 years old. He became interested in the game after watching Ángel Cabrera playing The Masters.

Although left-handed, Tosti plays with right-handed clubs.

“When I started there was only one club for lefties and it was the only one I could use,” said Tosti. “But then came a time, I needed the rest of the clubs and it was very complicated to get them because they were imported and very expensive. My dad told me to try playing right-handed. At the beginning I thought it was going to be very complicated, but a few days later I played a tournament at my club and finished fourth!”

Alvaro Ortiz

The Mexican is the younger brother of PGA Tour player Carlos Ortíz. He’s excited at the prospect of out-doing his sibling.

“It would be incredible if I were to win it and to play the Masters before my brother,” he said. “But it would be even better if I could play The Masters with him,” he added with a smile.

Although the field contains a number of young, star players who compete regularly at a high level internationally, there are also a number of older players, and some less experienced golfers. Gerald Mathias is the lone entrant from Haiti but we haven’t seen him here yet, he telephoned to say he wouldn’t make it until Thursday as his wife had a baby on Monday! Another nice vignette concerns the two entrants from the Cayman Islands – they’re father and son Michael and Peyton Wight.