By Juan Luis Guillen and Ron Driscoll
The fifth Latin America Amateur Championship – the second to be contested at Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic – provided a plethora of vignettes and observations. Here are some parting thoughts from a memorable week by the Caribbean Sea:
- During the competition days at Casa de Campo, the bird and cricket songs at the brink of dawn were interrupted only by the rhythmic clinking of golf clubs in the distance. It was the sound of the deliberate and pensive parade of the players, carrying their bags on their way to the practice area. What were they dreaming about before sunrise?
- Despite finishing two rounds at 24 over par, Smith Gálvez Chávez, the son of a miner from Peru, never lost his smile or his composure. The same positive attitude was exhibited by Amauriel Fernández of Venezuela, the first indigenous golfer to participate in an LAAC, who also missed the 36-hole cut at 13 over par, as well as Jesús Darío Montenegro, the son of a caddie master from Argentina, who tied for 20th place at even-par 288.
- Another player from humble origins, Andrey Borges Xavier of Brazil, was one of the revelations of the 2019 LAAC. Borges Xavier, 17, shot a pair of 6-under 66s on the way to a fifth-place finish. The son of a chicken farmer from southern Brazil improved his world ranking by 128 spots from No. 774 to No. 646, and he hopes to join the ranks of LAAC players who compete for a U.S. college.
- Luis Gagne of Costa Rica was the runner-up in his first – and likely his only – start in the LAAC. Gagne hit the shot he wanted from the 17th tee on Sunday, but the ball carried farther than he expected downwind into a fairway bunker, and he made a bogey after flying the green with his approach. Alvaro Ortiz birdied the hole to account for his final two-stroke margin of victory as both players went on to make two-putt birdies on the par-5 18th. “I knew as soon as I bogeyed 17 that I would need a miracle just to tie him,” said a downcast Gagne afterward.
- Gagne’s was one of six bogeys made on the 295-yard, par-4 17th hole, which was drivable for most of the 50 players in the field, especially with the helping breeze from the east. The hole played to a 3.98 stroke average on Sunday, with 15 birdies, 26 pars and three scores higher than bogey. Interestingly, it played only one-third of a stroke lower than No. 18 (4.30), which played 253 yards longer at 548 yards.
- As often happens in a back-and-forth battle like that between Ortiz and Gagne on Sunday, the “highlight-reel” shots are not necessarily the most important. A 12-foot, par-saving putt on No. 9 that kept Ortiz from falling two strokes behind was paramount: “I found myself in a tough up-and-down left of the green. I didn’t hit my best chip shot, but that putt definitely kept the round going. I knew Luis was one ahead of me, and I didn’t want to be two back.”
- Mexico had the most players in the top 10, with three: champion Ortiz along with Aaron Terrazas and Jorge Villar, who tied for ninth. In all, 12 countries were represented among the 21 players who shot even-par 288 or better, including two players from the host country. JJ Guerra tied for 12th, the best finish ever by a Dominican player in the LAAC.
- Five players from Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla., competed in the LAAC, and all of them finished in the top 25, led by Toto Gana, the 2017 champion from Chile, who placed solo fourth. Fellow Chilean Agustin Errazuriz, a freshman at Lynn, finished eighth, three strokes farther back.
- The effusive congratulations to champion Ortiz from rivals such as Julián Pericó of Peru were the culmination of a week of camaraderie that transcended borders, college affiliations and languages. The veterans chaperoned and guided the newcomers and they all shared the same nervousness, expectations, excitement and celebrations.
- Among those who offered kudos to Ortiz was his older brother, Carlos, who plays on the PGA Tour and was starting his final round of the Desert Classic at about the same time as Alvaro was completing his victory. Said Carlos, who competes in friendly fashion with his sibling, “He finished runner-up twice [in 2017 and 2018] and I know how hard it must have been for him. I have seen how he has busted his butt to have another chance and for him to close the tournament the way he did is amazing. I am really proud of him.”