After weeks of tension, tough conditions and a successful and dramatic chase after the third-round leader, the brand-new Latin America Amateur Champion (LAAC), Mexican Santiago de la Fuente, broke down in tears when he was asked to think back in time to the little boy with limited resources falling in love with golf.
“If I were to tell that little boy back home that I was going to be playing in the Masters when I was six or seven years old, I think I would be running like crazy all around the house. The support that I have received from my family, from my grandparents, my uncles, my girlfriend, everybody that has helped me,” said an emotional de la Fuente.
The same emotions were pouring in the town of Ocotlan, Jalisco, where his family was getting ready to celebrate the accomplishment of 22-year-old. “We lived it with a lot of nerves, emotion, and satisfaction. We are seeing the results of many years of discipline and sacrifice,” said Gerardo de la Fuente, Santiago’s father.
De la Fuente is the second Mexican to win the Latin America Amateur Championship, following the steps of Alvaro Ortiz, the only LAAC Champion (2019) to have made the cut at the Masters, one of the three majors reserved for the winner, along with the U.S. Open and The Open Championship.
“I asked him if he could give me a tip for this tournament. He said, ‘you have to believe that you can do it’,” said de la Fuente about the advice he received from Ortiz. He took the advice to heart and confirmed his prediction.
“I played with him in December, and I had a feeling about him. I got a feeling that he was going to win,” said Alvaro Ortiz before the start of the competition. The attitude he has – the grit, the toughness. I knew he was going to win.”
“He is a wonderful guy. Not only he is a beautiful player, but he is an awesome guy to be around. Tremendous leader and tremendous teammate,” added Jonathan Dismuke, his coach at University of Houston, where he’ll be back on Monday to compete with his team in the Southern Invitational, at West Lake Village, California.
“Ever since I transferred to Houston, he's been very helpful, and he's helped me to improve in many ways and improve as a person as well. I'm just grateful to be there and I can't wait to get back,” said de la Fuente about his senior year in college.
Pepe Lopez, brother of LPGA player Gaby Lopez and caddie of the LAAC Champion at Santa Maria Golf Club, in Panama, is another essential piece in de la Fuente’s career. “The key was the patience and the grit. It has been the hardest and most emotional experience as a caddie,” said Lopez.
Lopez, and de la Fuente’s extended support network of family members, coaches and friends will be cheering him on again at the 2024 Masters Tournament, The 152nd Open at Royal Troon and the 124th U.S. Open Championship at Pinehurst No. 2.