By Ron Driscoll, USGA
When Julian Perico broke the 18-hole championship scoring record at the 2017 Latin America Amateur Championship, the score was not so much a milestone for him. Instead, it reflectedthe natural progression of what he hopes will be a long and fruitful journey in golf.
“I had [Augusta National chairman] Billy Payne watching me, I had [USGA President] Diana Murphy watching me,” said Perico. “There were TV cameras, too. It doesn’t get more nerve-wracking than that.”
Perico was 17, the youngest player in the field, when he burst from the starting gate with a round of 6-under-par 64 last year at Club de Golf de Panama. Although he fell back with scores of 75 and 72 over the middle rounds, he finished the week with a round of 1-under 69, one stroke out of the three-man playoff won by Tomas “Toto” Gana of Chile.
Perico returns with heightened expectations that extend beyond the championship.
“This is the best week of the year,” said Perico, 18, who attends high school in Florida, at Bishops Gate Golf Academy. “But I don’t practice for just this week. All of this, my junior and college career, all the practice I put in, is to prepare me for when I get out of college and try to play on the PGA Tour.
I don’t want it to be easy, I just want it to be possible.”
Perico has shown himself to be one of the best at the junior level. After finishing in a tie for fourth place in last year’s LAAC, he captured the Junior Worlds 15-18-year-old division at Torrey Pines Golf Course in San Diego, as well as the AJGA’s Memorial Junior event.
Perico plans to continue his golf and academic careers in the fall at the University of Arkansas, where he will join a fellow competitor from this week’s field.
“I’m completely in love with that place,” said Perico. “Coach [Brad] McMakin and Coach [Barrett] Lais are unreal. It’s a great program with good competition and I’m playing with a future teammate in the first two rounds here [Luis Gerardo Garza, of Mexico].”
Perico would relish the opportunity to be in the mix again this week.
“Last year showed me what I was capable of doing, and how to handle myself under pressure,” Perico said. “I lost by one, but it’s fine. One of my best friends won. It’s been a year and since then I’ve developed as a player and as a human being. I don’t think I will get as nervous as that again.”
The champion will receive an invitation to play in the 82nd Masters Tournament in April. He also receives an exemption into The Amateur Championship at Royal Aberdeen in Scotland in June and the U.S. Amateur Championship at Pebble Beach Golf Links in August, along with any other USGA amateur championship this year for which he’s eligible.
Both the champion and any runners-up receive exemptions into the Open Qualifying Series-Final Qualifying in July with the opportunity to make the field for The 147th Open at Carnoustie and exemptions into sectional qualifying in June for the 118th U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club. All invitations and exemptions are dependent upon the player remaining an amateur.
The winner will also receive a five-year exemption into the Latin America Amateur, and the top five finishers will receive a one-year exemption (all dependent upon them remaining amateur).
Facts and Figures
- Twenty-seven of the 29 eligible countries are represented this year, from Bermuda to Chile – a distance of more than 6,000 miles. The only eligible countries not competing are Haiti and Turks and Caicos Islands.
- When Honduras competed for the first time last year, it meant that all 29 eligible countries had competed within the first three years of this championship.
- All three previous LAAC champions are playing this week: Matias Dominguez (2015), Paul Chaplet (2016) and Tomas “Toto” Gana (2017).
- Nine of the top 10 players from last year’s event in Panama return this year (only Nicolas Echavarria of Colombia, who tied for eighth and has since turned professional, isn’t back).
- Twenty-six players in the field were ranked inside the top 500 of the World Amateur Golf Ranking as of the week before the championship – there were 25 last year and 20 in each of the first two years.
- Twenty-eight players are competing in their fourth LAAC, while 38 are playing for the first time.