17-year-old Julian Perico of Peru leads the third Latin America Amateur Championship at Club de Golf de Panama after a first round 64. He is one ahead of nearest challenger Alejandro Villavicencio of Guatemala.

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Julian Perico of Peru fired a superb 64 that included eight birdies to take the first round lead in the Latin America Amateur Championship. The 17-year-old is the youngest player in the field this week and he is the first to shoot a 64 in the tournament’s short history. Perico is one ahead of Alejandro Villavicencio of Guatemala at Club de Golf de Panama who, at aged 37, is 20 years Perico’s senior.

Perico raced to the turn (playing the back nine at Club de Golf de Panama) in just 29 strokes, also a LAAC record. He stumbled with a double bogey on the 2nd hole (his 11th) but recovered well with back-to-back birdies to move back to six-under-par. He made par at each of the remaining holes to post a 64. It was the first time in his life he had scored better than five-under-par; he hadn’t even achieved that feat in practice.

“I’m quite amazed by it to be honest,” he said. “I was hitting the ball pretty badly on the range believe it or not, and I blocked my opening tee shot. But I then played a low stinger from the trees, made a birdie and it all went from there.”

Perico started playing golf when he was three and, since the age of 14, has been attending Bishops Gate Junior Golf Academy in Florida. Despite being a confident young player, Perico is not getting ahead of himself when it comes to talk of the U.S. Masters – the winner of this event receives an invitation to Augusta this April.

“Yes, well obviously it’s an amazing prize. For a golfer, it’s the best prize in the world,” he said. “But I still have three days to play and, I hope, another five years playing in this tournament, so I will try to stay in the present.”

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The winner of the tournament receives, in addition to an invitation to compete in the Masters Tournament; an exemption into The Amateur Championship, an exemption into the U.S. Amateur Championship and any other USGA amateur championship for which he is eligible. In addition, the champion and runner(s)-up receive exemptions into Open Qualifying Series – Final Qualifying with an opportunity to earn a place in The 146th Open Championship at Royal Birkdale, plus an exemption into final stage qualifying for the U.S. Open with an opportunity to earn a place in the 2017 U.S. Open at Erin Hills.

Although there are a number of youngsters in contention, with the youngest player Perico in the lead, it was also a good day for more experienced competitors. 37-year-old Alejandro Villavicencio, a former professional from Guatamala fired a fine opening 65 to end the day just one off the lead. A restaurant owner with a World Amateur Golf Ranking of 2736, Villavicencio won the 2005 Mayan Open as a professional and, the following year, he reached final stage qualifying for the European Tour. He regained his amateur status in 2010.

Home player Miguel Ordonez also enjoyed a good start to the tournament. The 33-year-old from Panama City carded a 67 to finish day one three off the lead. He won the Central American Championship back in 2001 and is playing in this event for a third time.

Defending champion Paul Chaplet carded an opening round of 71 and sits alongside other pre-tournament favourites Jorge Garcia of Venezuela and Alvaro Ortiz of Mexico – the latter is brother of PGA Tour professional Carlos Ortiz.

2015 winner Matias Dominguez opened with a solid round of 69. He bounced back from three dropped shots on the front nine with a back nine of 33.

Round 1 – Top-10 scores

1    Julian Perico (Per)                64
2    Alejandro Villavicencio (Gua)        65
T3    Miguel Ordonez (Pan)            67
T3    Jose Luis Montano (Bol)            67
T3    Toto Gana (Chi)                67
T3    Nicolas Echavarria (Col)            67
T7    Gaston Bertinotti (Arg)            68
T7    Santiago Gomez (Col)            68
T7    Jeronimo Esteve (PRC)            68
T7    Matias Lezcano (Arg)            68