How LAAC changed the lives of its champions

Four years ago, Joaquín Niemann was enshrined in the Prince of Wales Country Club and He was winning the fourth edition of the Latin America Amateur Championship (LAAC) when he was just 19 years old. Today, the Chilean is within the top-50 of the World Ranking, he already has a victory on the PGA TOUR, participated in eleven Majors, played in a Presidents Cup and represented Chile at the Tokyo Olympic Games.

This is how quickly the life of a young person who gets to participate in LAAC can change.

In a week the dreams of these boys can be triggered into situations that for many of them were far away in their imaginary, but that can be decisive when building a career in golf.

The six champions lived different realities, but surely when they have to tell how their careers have been, the first step will always be their title in the Latin America Amateur Championship.

Matías Domínguez was the one who lifted the trophy for the first time, in January 2015, at Pilar Golf Club, Argentina. The Chilean arrived at Augusta National and experienced the impact of being the first LAAC champion to play a Major.

After that experience, Domínguez decided to focus on the world of work and did not seek his way through professional golf, which is why he then played all editions of LAAC. But after the pandemic, his life took a resounding turn and at the age of 28 he decided to try his luck in professionalism. A top-10 at the Chilean Open a few weeks ago is his best performance in his short rental career.

Paul Chaplet won the first time LAAC was played at Casa de Campo, in 2016. The Costa Rican was only 16 years old and took home the jackpot. His time at the Masters was significant for his career. Arizona State University was his first step in College and then continued at Sam Houston State University. “I learned a lot more in these two days than in my entire amateur career,” said Chaplet after his stint at Augusta National.

Toto Gana surprised everyone with his playoff victory against Niemann and the Mexican Álvaro Ortiz at the Panama Golf Club in 2017. The Chilean not only played the Masters, but also The Amateur and the US Amateur, in what was a journey for the great tournaments of the world. “I played events that I did not know and with the best players in the world, that undoubtedly prompted me to continue working to play better and better,” said who studied at Lynn University and now plays as a professional.

The one who definitely knew how to take the best of his game to the next level was Joaquín Niemann. The Chilean, who is the player to win the LAAC by greater margin of difference (five strokes), Perhaps he did not show his best version at the 2018 Masters, but then his career was meteoric and thanks to his talent He received invitations that gradually led him to quickly get his PGA TOUR card.

There, Niemann won at A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier in 2019, being the youngest non-American player to win on the PGA TOUR since 1923, at just 20 years old. In addition, he has 17 top-10s, of which 11 are top-5s, in almost 100 events played on the world’s top tour.

Álvaro Ortiz, after his victory at Casa de Campo in 2019, was the first LAAC champion to break the cut at the Masters. The Mexican fought Norwegian Viktor Hovland for being the best amateur at Augusta National and was just one stroke behind the already two-time PGA TOUR winner.

A few months later, after his time at Arkansas University, it was time for professionalism where he won the PGA TOUR Latinoamérica Qualifying School. In that Tour he won the Mexico Open, in Mazatlán and with it a place among the best players (4th in the Ranking), to secure the card to play in the Korn Ferry Tour this season that begins.

“It is very difficult to describe how LAAC impacted my life. It cost me a lot to win it despite having been close on several occasions. That victory was a definitive turning point in my career, it opened my eyes to realize that I have the level for this, that I can make a living from golf “said who this year also played the US Open.

The last of our winners, Abel Gallegos, was the first to receive the double prize of playing the Masters and The Open. The pandemic postponed his dreams a bit, but finally several months later the Argentine entered through Magnolia Lane. “It was something incredible, something that I dreamed of all my life and the week was unforgettable. Maybe that played against me a bit, since everything surprised me. When I went to play at the Open, I went with a different mentality and I think I found myself a little more with my game, “said Gallegos, who now lives in the United States, where he works hard for his next goals. The closest, in a few weeks, from January 20 to 23 in Casa de Campo: being the first player to successfully defend the LAAC title and return to the Masters and The 150th Open Championship in St Andrews.

It is that the benefits that the LAAC grants in each edition are unmatched: the champion receives an invitation to compete in the Masters Tournament and The Open Championship. In addition, the winner and the player or players who finish in second place directly enter the final qualifying stages, with the possibility of reaching The Open and the US Open. On the other hand, the champion receives full exemptions to play The Amateur, the US Amateur Championship and all other USGA amateur championships for which he is eligible.