Although Panama does not have a long-lasting tradition in golf, the game has grown tremendously in recent years as many amateur players have reached out to local golf clubs to play golf for the first time. As a part of this momentum, the Latin America Amateur Championship (LAAC) is helping to reinforce the development of the game and give golf an even bigger boost. From January 12-15, 2017, the Panamanian galleries will be able to enjoy watching the region’s best players competing in the LAAC’s third edition at Club de Golf de Panama. They will also have the opportunity to support their countrymen at the most important event for amateur golfers in Latin America. As the host nation, Panama will be represented by six players in the championship field.
At the top of the list is Miguel Ordonez, who has played in both editions of the LAAC and fondly remembers the first year he participated at Pilar Golf in Buenos Aires, Argentina. “It was a very important moment in my life, since I was waiting for the birth of my first daughter. I received three calls on the way to the airport to travel to Buenos Aires and found out that the baby was scheduled to be born that day. That week was a complete victory because I could see my daughter Aurora, and then I was able to arrive in time to play the tournament,” said Ordonez, who has claimed notable titles such as the 2001 Campeonato Centroamericano and the 2009 Copa Simon Bolivar. He is also the proud champion of the 2012 and 2013 Campeonato Nacional de Istmo, an event that was first played in 1918. “The LAAC is the most special golf tournament that I’ve played in my life because it is very important and it awards many benefits. It is, undoubtedly, the most important championship in Latin America at an amateur level,” added the 33-year-old.
Among Panama’s leading amateur players looking to feature in the 2017 LAAC is 30-year-old Luis Cargiulo, who won the 2016 Campeonato Nacional de Istmo and represented Panama at the 2016 World Amateur Team Championship in Mexico. “This was one of my goals. Winning the Isthmian qualified me for the LAAC, the tournament that all amateur golfers want to play. In Panama, we are very grateful to the three organizations for considering us as the hosts of such a prestigious event,” said Cargiulo, who also represents Club de Golf de Panama.
Another player looking to take advantage of this opportunity is Raul Carbonell, who will experience his second LAAC after participating in the 2016 championship in the Dominican Republic. The 17-year-old represented his country at the Callaway Junior World Championship and the U.S. Kids Golf Teen World Championship. “My main goal is to have the best grades possible in school while I continue developing my game and then have a chance to play golf in a university in the United States,” said Carbonell. “In order to achieve that goal, I will try to play in relevant junior tournaments and obtain the best results possible. After college, my dream is to one day play on the PGA Tour. It’s a tough dream, but golf has taught me never to give up.”
Another one of Panama’s golf prospects is 16-year-old Jose Guillermo Lewis. “I started playing golf with my grandfather when I was seven years old; he loved the game. I watched him play and said to myself, ‘This is my sport. I like it, and I want to play it,’” said Lewis. A student at the Academia Interamericana de Panama, he has also competed in the Callaway Junior World Championship and the U.S. Kids Golf Teen World Championship, and joined Cargiulo on the Panama Team at the 2016 World Amateur Team Championship.
Rounding out Panama’s roster at the 2017 LAAC are Mike Dunne and Carlos Clement. Dunne, 28, is currently the No. 1 player on the national rankings, and won the Vista Mar de Panama tournament. Clement, 37, stands third on the national rankings and was the winner of the tournament in Buenaventura.
The opportunities offered by the LAAC are unprecedented within Latin American golf. Each year, the LAAC champion receives an invitation to compete in the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club, as well as full exemptions into The Amateur Championship, U.S. Amateur Championship and any other USGA amateur championship for which he is eligible. In addition, the winner and the runner(s)-up are exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The 146th Open at Royal Birkdale and sectional qualifying for the U.S. Open Championship at Erin Hills.