On the eve of the 2016 LAAC (Latin America Amateur Championship), what do we know and what can we expect from the second instalment of the tournament?
1 – These guys are focused
The tournament has moved on from last year and the players in the field are fully aware of the significance of the event they’re competing in, and of the potential rewards. The general consensus from the competitors is that they didn’t know what to expect in Buenos Aires last year, but now they do. Defending champion Matias Dominguez summed it up by saying; “everyone is here this year, and people have come to win.”
2 – Georgia’s on their minds
All of those who feel they have a chance of winning (and a good portion of the field do) are thinking about The Masters, even if they protest otherwise. “Of course, we all think about it,” said 18-year-old Luis Gerardo Garza from Mexico. “When I was a little younger, playing at Augusta was a distant dream. Now, with this event, it just seems a little closer.”
3 – It’s wide open
Santiago Gomez of Colombia (tied 5th last year) made that clear when he was asked who he felt he would need to beat to claim victory this time out. “There isn’t one, or two or even five guys I could name,” he said. “There are so many people in the field who could take victory here if they have a good week. I think many of us believe we have a good enough game to win, it’s just about delivering.”
4 – This event is a key target
I’m surprised to see just how many of the players who teed it up in Buenos Aires are back to contend this year. Many older guys who I thought might have turned pro are back to try their luck in this event. With the prizes on offer that’s hardly surprising – For the winner: an invite to Augusta, entry to the 2016 Amateur and U.S. Amateur Championships; both the winner and runner-up receive exemptions into The Open final qualifying and sectional qualifying for the US Open.
Matias Dominguez of Chile is back to defend his title and other more (relatively) senior players like Andre Tourinho of Brazil who was tied third last year are back for another crack of the whip.
5 – Tosti has had quite a year
Last year’s runner-up Alejandro Tosti, who was inconsolable at the conclusion of the tournament in Buenos Aires, has been through quite a lot this year: He’s started at the University of Florida, he’s learned to speak English almost flawlessly, he’s received guidance from fellow Argentinian Angel Cabrera, he struggled with homesickness in his early days at College and then fell gravely ill when an infected tooth led to encephalitis. Despite all that, he’s confident of going one better this time out.
“It’s the same tournament but it’s different mentally. I know I can do it now.”