This week sees the third running of the Latin America Amateur Championship at the Club de Golf de Panama in Panama City. Fergus Bisset is making the journey across the Atlantic to watch the action.
I’m buzzing this morning as this is one of my favourite golfing weeks of the year: The Latin America Amateur Championship. In 2015 I travelled to Buenos Aires to cover the inaugural LAAC and, last year, I was in the Dominican Republic to see the second instalment. This week I’m headed for Panama to attend, and report on, the third running of the tournament. I’m expecting to see some excellent and exciting golf.
It’s a superb event founded and run by the R&A, The Masters Tournament and the USGA. Open to the leading players from the 29 IOC recognised countries from Central and Southern America and the Caribbean (who are members of the International Golf Federation,) the tournament was started with a view towards the development of golf through the Latin America region.
The standard is high and the competitors, mostly youngsters, play with a flair and passion that’s compelling to watch. There tends to be a lot of birdies out there, and the occasional disaster to boot: it’s edge of the seat stuff.
The LAAC was established following the success of the Asia Pacific Amateur Championship, inaugurated in 2009. That event has played a significant role in the advancement of golf in the Asia Pacific region and has already produced world-beating champions. Hideki Matsuyama was twice a winner of the event, in 2010 and 2011. Going into just its third year, the LAAC is already having a similar impact.
The winner of the tournament receives: 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.
With such prizes on offer, players and unions are focused on performing well in this event and golfing programmes at both grass roots and elite level are being established and developed in countries across Latin America, with one eye on this tournament and the opportunities it might provide. Many U.S. Colleges now send scouts to the LAAC to try and find fresh talent to recruit, so a good performance this week could be life-changing.
Rules of golf video, ball unplayable in a bunker:
In the first two instalments of the LAAC the champions have been Matias Dominguez of Chile and Paul Chaplet of Costa Rica. The latter, who won last year in the Dominican Republic was just 16-years-old when he lifted the trophy and went on to play at Augusta – quite an experience.
Both Dominguez and Chaplet will be in the field this week and I recognise a number of the names on the start list from previous years. A lot of youngsters who are considering turning pro will put off that move just so they can play in this tournament and potentially secure a start in The Masters.
I’m looking forward to visiting Panama. I don’t know much about the place apart from the fact that it has quite an impressive canal and has a hat named after it. I’m staying in Panama City so will enjoy exploring the country’s capital. From what I’ve read, there’s some fabulous architecture and a number of interesting galleries and museums to visit. I’m going for the golf predominantly, but I’ll keep you updated with what I see both on and off the course.
I’ve half-heartedly started packing – well moving stuff around with a view to eventually putting it in a bag. Judging by the forecast it looks like being seriously hot (30 degs) and, possibly, a touch thundery. Perhaps I should take some of the woollen sweaters out of the “possible” pile and look out my Panama hat.