There’s impressive strength in depth within the field of the Latin America Amateur with the leading competitors displaying admirable discipline and patience.
When I travelled to Argentina for the inaugural Latin America Amateur Championship last January, one of the things that struck me was the style of golf on display from many (not all) of the competitors. If I had to use one word to encapsulate the tactics I witnessed, it would have to be “swashbuckling.” Driver was the “go to” club from every tee, if a carry was vaguely possible it was taken on, flop shots were attempted over trees, balls buried in the rough were slashed at with vicious commitment, it was seriously exciting to watch. But, in many cases, it wasn’t wholly effective.
This year, there’s a distinct difference in strategy. This course is not one to get greedy with and most of the field seems to have taken that on board. Watching yesterday, and briefly this morning, I’ve seen a far more considered and patient approach. Players opting for position rather than distance of the tee, I even saw a couple of guys laying up on par-5s!
This development in tactics is illustrative of how this event has moved on in just one year of existence. Last year, the competitors, their coaches and federations didn’t know fully what to expect, they weren’t certain what it would take to win and what victory would mean.
Seeing Matias Dominguez’s success in 2015 and subsequent participation in The Masters (and all the other experiences he enjoyed in the following months,) has clearly focused minds. The players and their support teams in Casa de Campo this year are definitely more determined and attentive – game faces are most definitely on. It’s evident that preparations for this event have been comprehensive and the majority of competitors this week have come with a real expectation of success. I think last year, there were only just more than a handful of players who looked like they seriously believed they were contenders, this year there are only just more than a handful who look like they aren’t.
And the standard of golf reflects that. As I write, there are 24 players at par or better, within five shots of the lead at five-under. This is a difficult course and these young guys are seriously good. We’ve spoken to a number of the top players this week about how they feel their games have moved on since last year. The most common improvements cited have been: Course management, patience and finding a way to stay calm on the course.
Around 50% of the players this week are currently attending colleges in the USA and you can see the influence of the coaching programmes they’re on. The players are more measured – I saw various misfortunes on the course yesterday that were met with a shrug of the shoulders rather than wailing and gnashing of teeth. Many are extremely deliberate, dare I say slow. Yes, some are a bit slow. But that’s what they’ve been told to do – stay in routines, stay at one pace. It’s great to stay at one pace, but it could be just a touch faster – they need to think Rory McIlroy or Matt Fitzpatrick.
In general though the competence and manner of these amateurs is exemplary and it’s great to see. As an example – last year’s winner Matias Dominguez started poorly yesterday and I saw him take five to get down from the edge of the green on the par-5 3rd. That would have floored many amateur golfers, but he took it in his stride, barely raised an eyebrow and steadily fought back. He’s currently at four-under-par midway through round two and is tied for the lead. He says he doesn’t want to turn professional and feels he has other projects he wishes to explore. I wonder if his targets might shift if he successfully defends this title?