By Ron Driscoll, USGA
This spring, Luis Gagne will attempt to become the first golfer in Louisiana State University history to earn All-America honors four times. After that, he plans to follow good friend and former LSU teammate Sam Burns into the professional ranks. But first, he is taking his best shot this week at landing a berth in the second major championship of his career.
Gagne, 21, played in the U.S. Open last June at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, distinguishing himself by earning co-low amateur honors with 2017 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Matt Parziale. Gagne shot 4-under 68 in Saturday’s third round of the fifth Latin America Amateur Championship and is in fourth place, two shots off the lead entering the final round on Casa de Campo’s Teeth of the Dog.
“It was a great week, a week I will remember forever,” said Gagne of the U.S. Open. “It’s a challenging course that tested each part of my game. I think the main thing I took away from it is the reassurance that I can play with the best players in the world.”
Gagne was born in Costa Rica, the home country of his mother, Graciela. His family moved to Orlando, Fla., when he was 4 years old, and he won two state Division 1A individual titles playing for Orlando Christian Prep. Although this is his first LAAC, he represented Costa Rica for the first time last fall at the World Amateur Team Championship in Ireland.
“I’ve wanted to play for Costa Rica for a while,” said Gagne. “Between school and my amateur events in the States, it never really lined up. I wish I did it earlier, but I’m glad I finally got to do it.”
Gagne almost won in his first start of 2019 in Latin America. He lost to Chris Crisologo of Canada in a playoff last Sunday in the South American Amateur at Los Leones Golf Club in Santiago, Chile. Crisologo successfully defended his title by edging Gagne on the second playoff hole.
The Teeth of the Dog Course reminds Gagne of another seaside layout he played last summer.
“I think this course and Pebble Beach, where I played the U.S. Amateur last year, are similar,” said Gagne, who lost in the Round of 32 at Pebble Beach, which will also host the 119th U.S. Open in June. “This is like a tropical Pebble Beach. There are a few holes that are gettable, but you have a stretch of four holes on each side that are on the ocean and I think those play really tough with the wind coming in.”
Gagne will be bolstered in his LAAC title chase by his run to the U.S. Amateur quarterfinals in 2016 at Oakland Hills, as well as his experience last June, when he and Parziale battled for low amateur on the final day at Shinnecock Hills, ultimately tying for 48th place.
“You know going into it that the U.S. Open is going to be tough – I shot 16 over and I felt pretty good about it,” said Gagne with a chuckle. “I played all my practice rounds with my old teammate Sam Burns, and on Saturday and Sunday, he played in the group behind me and then in the group in front of me.”
Gagne also kindled a connection with his family roots on his father’s side.
“My dad [Michael] is from South Attleboro, Mass., and in the final round, I got to play with Peter Uihlein, who is a huge Boston guy,” said Gagne. “We talked the whole time and had a lot of fun.”
For the week, Gagne finished tied with Uihlein, Brandt Snedeker and 2003 U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk, among others. He has a little bit of unfinished business before he attempts to lock horns with the professionals on a regular basis.
“I’m missing my first two weeks of school (spring semester) by playing here, but I should be able to handle it,” said Gagne, who is majoring in business administration. “I have two classes left to finish. Regardless of what happens this week, I am planning to turn pro in June.”
He is hoping that his performance this weekend will require another excused absence in April.
Ron Driscoll is the senior manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at.