As the final preparations take place before the 2019 Latin America Amateur Championship, Rob Smith sets the scene…
Latin America Amateur Championship Preview
Flying out from the UK just as the weather looks set to take a turn for the worse, I don’t expect too much sympathy as I spend a few days in the Dominican Republic at the amazing Casa de Campo. Nonetheless, I am here for an important reason; to report on the fifth staging of the Latin America Amateur Championship, one of the most prestigious amateur golf tournaments in the world.
Following in the successful footsteps of its slightly older brother, the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship, this event was founded in 2015 by The R&A, the Masters Tournament and the USGA. The reason for this is to further develop amateur golf in the region; effectively South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.
As a testimony to the importance of this championship, the winner will receive an invitation to compete in the Masters at Augusta in April. He will also earn a place in The Amateur Championship which is being staged this year at two Golf Monthly Top 100 favourites, Portmarnock and The Island. On top of this, he will receive an exemption into the US Amateur and any other USGA amateur championship for which he is eligible.
Both the winner and the runner-up (and ties) also receive exemptions into final qualifying for The Open Championship which this year returns to Royal Portrush, and final qualifying for the US Open which is at Pebble Beach.
If any further evidence is needed in terms of the prestige of this event, the fully-equipped Media Centre has attracted representation from all over the world, and the most senior officials of the organising bodies are here in force.
The final day of practice saw a shotgun start with the players having the opportunity to work on their games, particularly the tricky approach pitches and chips that will prove so important this week.
The 2018 winner, Chilean Joaquín Niemann, is the only one of the four previous winners not to be competing this week – the simple reason being that he turned professional following his participation in the Masters and is already making inroads on the PGA Tour. In turn, this is acting as a real inspiration to young golfers throughout the region.
In the field of 108 supremely talented young amateurs, one of the hot favourites is Peruvian Luis Fernando Barco. Not only is he the highest-placed golfer here in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, but he finished in a tie for third when the event was held here three years ago and so has plenty of experience on his side as well.
In terms of national form, a Chilean golfer has won three of the four previous stagings of the event and the country has 10 golfers here this week. Overall, 29 countries are represented at Casa de Campo this week, and there are 19 golfers in the field who have played in the event every year since its inception.
One of the most appealing aspects of the week for everyone is the course itself. Designed in 1971 by Pete Dye, there are seven holes which run right along the oceanside and it will look an absolute picture in the live coverage that is to be televised throughout Latin America during all four days of the championship.
Play starts bright and early from both tees at 7:15 on Thursday morning – four hours behind UK time – and a key factor on this demanding and exposed oceanside 7,210-yard course will be the wind. The next four days look set to be packed with top-class golf over one of the most admired courses in the world.