The Latin America Amateur Championship has been running since 2015. But what is the LAAC and why is it such an important and significant event?
This week sees the sixth running of the Latin America Amateur Championship (LAAC), to be held over the El Camaleon Course in Mayakoba, Mexico.
Founded by The R&A, The Masters and The USGA, the Latin America Amateur Championship, or LAAC, was inaugurated with a view to developing the game in Central and South America and the Caribbean.
It followed the success of the Asia Pacific Amateur Championship (AAC) that has been run since 2009 by the R&A and The Masters, together with the Asia Pacific Golf Confederation.
That event has proved hugely effective in growing the game in the Asia Pacific region, producing inspirational champions like Hideki Matsuyama.
The incredible prizes on offer at the LAAC have, in just five years of its existence, inspired and incentivised players and federations in the region to focus their efforts and develop their elite programmes.
Since it was first contested in Buenos Aires in 2015, the 72-hole strokeplay tournament has produced great champions and a number of top players.
Joaquin Niemann of Chile who won the LAAC in 2018 on home soil in Santiago, is perhaps the best-known graduate.
He has climbed to 53rd on the Official World Golf Ranking, he’s recently won on the PGA Tour – A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier – and he played in the 2019 Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne.
The LAAC champion receives an invitation to compete in the 2020 Masters at Augusta National Golf Club and, for the first time, will automatically qualify for The 149th Open at Royal St George’s.
The winner also receives full exemptions into The Amateur Championship, U.S. Amateur Championship and any other USGA amateur championship for which he is eligible and is exempt into the final stages of qualifying for the 120th U.S. Open Championship at Winged Foot.
Runner(s)-up will be exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The 149th Open and the 120th U.S. Open Championship.
The LAAC is just one element of the R&A’s extensive and on-going work to promote and grow the sport of golf around the world.
The move to offer the champion a place in The Open (as with the AAC) demonstrates how the event has grown and evolved in a relatively short space of time.
“We are delighted to offer a place in The Open for the winner of the 2020 LAAC,” said Martin Slumbers, Chief Executive of The R&A.
“The championship has made huge strides in five years and you only have to look at the success Joaquin Niemann has enjoyed to recognise the growing strength of player from this region.”
This year’s event will feature 108 players from 28 different countries in the Latin America region.
That region extends from Mexico through Central America, including the Caribbean, and down to South America.
The course for 2020
Designed by two-time Open champion Greg Norman, the El Camaleon course at Mayakoba, Playa Del Carmen, is a fabulous layout played alongside and inland from the beautiful Caribbean coastline.
It’s 7,003 yards with a par of 71 and, with a number of testing hazards to negotiate, it will provide a stern test for the players in this year’s LAAC.
Since 2007, this course has been host to the Mayakoba Golf Classic on the PGA Tour with winners including Graeme McDowell and Matt Kuchar.
History of the LAAC
The inaugural LAAC was won, in 2015, by Chile’s Matias Dominguez at Pilar Golf in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
The 22-year-old senior at Texas Tech University carded a four-round total of 11-under-par to finish one ahead of home player Alejandro Tosti.
The following year, over Pete Dye’s Teeth of the Dog course at Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic, 16-year-old Paul Chaplet from Costa Rica was the winner.
He held his nerve coming down the stretch to beat Venezuela’s Jorge Garcia by a single shot.
2017 saw the first and, so far, only playoff in the LAAC. It was Chile’s Toto Gana who came out on top at Club de Golf de Panama.
The 19-year-old defeated his countryman Joaquin Niemann and Mexico’s Alvaro Ortiz at the second extra hole.
Although disappointed to miss out in extra holes, both Niemann and Ortiz would have their days.
It was Niemann who triumphed 12-months later at the Prince of Wales Country Club in Santiago.
The 19-year-old became the third Chilean player in the first four years of the LAAC to take the title.
As mentioned above, Niemann has gone on to enjoy swift success in the professional ranks.
Already a winner on the PGA Tour, he is close to breaking into the top-50 on the Official World Golf Ranking.
In 2019 the LAAC returned to the Dominican Republic where Mexico’s Alvaro Ortiz scored a deserving win.
It was his fifth and final appearance in the championship and he signed off in style with a two-shot win over Costa Rica’s Luis Gagne.
Ortiz became the first LAAC winner to make the cut in The Masters three months later and he then went on to turn professional.