By Ron Driscoll, USGA
SANTIAGO, Chile – The fourth Latin America Amateur Championship is being played at Prince of Wales Country Club, a course that is likely to place a premium on patience, a virtue that is seldom seen in impetuous and strong young golfers.
“Not to group every young player in the same basket,” said Tommy Tangtiphaiboontana, the USGA’s inside-the-ropes championship director for the LAAC. “But that is the norm, right? Everyone wants to hit driver, wants to bomb it, wants to hit every par 5 in two. But honestly, you could play this course very well by playing smart with 3-woods and irons off the tee, laying it back 20 or 30 yards and just getting it in play.”
A total of 105 players will compete in the fourth LAAC, which is being contested from Jan. 20-23 at Prince of Wales C.C. Admission is free and spectators are welcome to attend the championship, which provides the winner with entry into the 2018 Masters Tournament, as well as The Amateur Championship at Royal Aberdeen, the U.S. Amateur Championship at Pebble Beach Golf Links, 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 stage of qualifying for The 147th Open at Carnoustie and sectional qualifying for the 2018 U.S. Open Championship at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club.
Prince of Wales Country Club was founded in 1925, and the course has played host to many regional and national events. It hosted the Web.com Tour’s Chile Classic from 2012-14, and two future winners on the PGA Tour prevailed in that time: Kevin Kisner (2013) and Adam Hadwin (2014). Interestingly, neither one is known for being a long hitter on the Tour, and longtime club member Roy Mackenzie concurs with Tangtiphaiboontana that accuracy is far more crucial in finding success here.
“By modern standards, this is a short course, but it’s a very tight course and the rough is thick,” said Mackenzie, 51, a member of the club’s committee for the championship who has played the course since age 10. “Because I’ve played it all my life, I find it pretty straightforward, but the basic thing is to put the ball on the fairway. This is not the typical bermudagrass you find in the U.S. that has a lot of air. This grass is really thick, and you can lose your ball if you don’t keep your eye on it.”
Mackenzie is a third-generation Chilean whose great grandparents emigrated here. He played golf while majoring in history at Texas A&M University, and, after a long professional golf career he now runs events for corporate clients. He has a warning for those who would attempt to get too ambitious with shots out of the rough.
“You basically can’t do anything except chip out,” said Mackenzie. “If you try and work the ball around the trees here, you’re going to make a double bogey in five seconds.”
Kisner shot 21-under 267 over four rounds to win here by one stroke five years ago, and Mackenzie knows the path to good scoring here.
“If you play smart, and you play patient, you should have 10 or 12 short birdie putts, and the greens are relatively flat,” said Mackenzie. “They’re not tricky greens, but there is a little bit of movement. The 14th tee [which is at the farthest point from the clubhouse] is 18 meters higher than the clubhouse – that’s a six-story building. You don’t really notice it, but there is a lot of slope, and everything has a tendency to come down toward the clubhouse.”
One interesting sidelight is that holes 8-9 and 17-18 are being reversed for the championship, just as was done for those three Chile Classic events. That means the round will end the final two days on the 497-yard, par-4 18th hole, which has a pond at the front-right corner of the green. In addition, the course par this week will be 71 rather than the par of 72 that was used for the three Chile Classics.
“No. 18 is a converted par 5, and we’re playing it as a long par 4 with an option of moving up the tee to 460 yards,” said Tangtiphaiboontana. “Our thought process was that all three par 5s are between 520 and 560 yards, and with the warmth and the firmness of the fairways, all of the par 5s will be reachable in two, so we wanted another strong par 4 in there. With 18 being one of the bigger greens on the course, we thought it was a great par 4 to have them finish on.”
Mackenzie notes that two par 3s are going to be stern tests for the field: the 189-yard seventh and the 221-yard 15th.
“No. 7 is very tough; it’s not long, but it’s downwind and it’s uphill, and it’s going to be very difficult to hold that green,” said Mackenzie. “They are probably going to be hitting 6-, 7- or even 8-irons, but with a front pin position, there will be no way you can stop it. The green slopes away at the front and then straightens out.
“And then 15 is a demon. It’s usually into the wind, coming in from the left to right and it’s into the sun, probably a 4-iron or 5-iron shot. Not many people hit that green.”
Picking a target winning score is never easy, but Mackenzie gladly offered: “I’m expecting anywhere between 12 and 16 under to win. If it’s cloudy and there’s no wind, they might even shoot 20 under. But we’re supposed to have wind in the afternoon. When it’s sunny here, the wind is always coming from the south, and that prevailing wind is a crosswind on most holes. There are very few shots that you go dead into the wind, although the second shots on 9 and 18 are straight into the wind.”
Tangtiphaiboontana knows that the fairways will be harder to find if it’s firm and fast, and the goal is to have greens running at 11½ or 12 on the Stimpmeter.
“The nice thing with this golf course and the time of year it is [summer], is that it’s dry; our intention is to get the course firm and fast, which hopefully makes the greens a little bit tougher to attack. And if you do miss the fairway and end up in rough, it’s going to be a guess as to what kind of lie you’re going to get.”