Over recent years, amateur golf in Venezuela has grown rapidly thanks to several events sanctioned by the South American Golf Federation. This growth came almost at the same time as Jhonattan Vegas’ success on the PGA Tour, where he has earned two wins.
Inspired by the rapid progress of his countryman, Jorge Garcia has already left a mark among the amateur players of his country. A victory at the 2017 Latin America Amateur Championship (LAAC), which will be conducted January 12-15 at Club de Golf de Panamá, will only serve to strengthen Garcia’s international presence. He’s currently in the top 50 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking™ (WAGR) and is the fourth-ranked player from Latin America.
Garcia is one of the most talented players in the region, and his results confirm it. His many career victories include the 2013 and 2014 South American Junior Championships, the 2015 Terra Cotta Invitational, the 2013 and 2014 Toyota Junior World Cup and the 2015 South Beach International Amateur. He was named two-time American Junior Golf Association First-Team Rolex Junior All-American. And in 2013, he won the Puerto Rico Junior Open and earned a spot in the PGA Tour’s Puerto Rico Open, where he made the cut and ultimately finished 75th.
“Pichu,” as he is known to his friends, was born in Puerto La Cruz, Anzoátegui, Venezuela. He began playing golf at age 4 by watching and joining his dad and brother, who also enjoy playing the game. He and his family played at Los Chaguaramos Golf & Club, a golf course in the area where they lived. The course closed when he was only 9 years old, and it seemed that the young man’s relationship with the game was over. But Garcia was not about to let his dream end. After a difficult decision, his parents decided that their son would pursue his dream in the United States, where he attended American Heritage High School in Florida.
His talent surprised everyone at the University of Florida, where he is a sophomore member of the golf team, one of the best in the NCAA. “I’m very happy playing there,” said Garcia.” The year has been very positive since August. We are playing well, and we have finished first and runner-up. My teammates know about the LAAC, and they’re happy for Latin American players to have that chance.”
Garcia had an outstanding performance at the first LAAC, conducted in 2015 at Pilar Golf in Argentina, and finished 10th. Earlier this year, he shone at Casa de Campo’s Teeth of the Dog course in the Dominican Republic, where he finished runner-up to champion Paul Chaplet. “I was exempt to play the final qualifying of the U.S. Open. It was a valuable experience, a unique opportunity, and I hope I can play those stages more often. It was very important for my future,” said the 20-year-old.
That U.S. Open experience is just one of the many benefits awarded to the LAAC champion and runner-up. The winner will receive the opportunity to play in the 2017 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club, the 2017 Amateur Championship at Royal St George’s and the 2017 U.S. Amateur Championship at Riviera Country Club, as well as any other USGA amateur championship for which he is eligible. In addition, the winner and the runner(s)-up will be exempt into The Open Qualifying Series for The 146th Open at Royal Birkdale and sectional qualifying for the 2017 U.S. Open at Erin Hills.
“The LAAC is a great tournament, a very nice opportunity for all the Latin American players,” said Garcia, who will be in the 2017 LAAC field. “I really had my doubts on whether such an important championship could be brought to our region but it has been very interesting to play in it and to see how the tournament has improved with the years. The LAAC has changed amateur golf in the entire region. Golf players are very enthused, and they even plan their schedules around the event. It has helped many of us mature.”
Garcia hopes to excel at Club de Golf de Panamá during the third edition of the LAAC in January 2017. “I don’t know the golf course; I hope I can talk to reliable golf pros to start preparing for the layout. I will train in the same way I did the last two years but I will play more golf in December. I know I have what it takes to win but you need a little bit of luck as well and I haven’t had it in the first two editions. If I continue to put myself in contention the last day, sooner or later I will get that win,” said Garcia, who hopes to hoist the trophy and reach his dream of playing in the 2017 Masters.