By Ron Driscoll, USGA
Players from Chile have won two of the first three Latin America Amateur Championships. The 11 Chileans in the field for the 2018 LAAC who are vying to make it three out of four will have a bit of a home-course advantage at Prince of Wales Country Club, which hosts the annual Prince of Wales Open.
“It’s a golf course that varies quite a lot between the morning and afternoon,” said Joaquin Niemann, 19, who received the Mark H. McCormack Medal on Friday evening as the No. 1 player in the World Amateur Golf Ranking for 2017. “In the afternoon, the ball can fly. The wind is quite strong. That’s a huge advantage being a local player because you know exactly what’s going to happen.”
Niemann lost out in a playoff in last year’s LAAC at Club de Golf de Panama to close friend Tomas “Toto” Gana, but he made the most of his runner-up finish by playing his way into the 117th U.S. Open at Erin Hills via the sectional qualifying spot that he earned. Niemann also competed for the second consecutive year in the U.S. Amateur Championship, with his best finish coming in 2016 when he reached the Round of 16.
Should he somehow negotiate the 72 holes this week as champion, his focus would be on becoming the first winner of the LAAC – and first Chilean player ever – to make the cut in the Masters Tournament.
“The U.S. Open was the first time I was able to play with the people that play on Tour,” said Niemann, who shot 74-75 at Erin Hills last June to miss the 36-hole cut by four shots. He went on play in the PGA Tour’s Greenbriar Classic three weeks later, where he finished in a tie for 29th. “You’re kind of afraid, but then you realize that those players are not so far away from what you are doing. If I were to win [here] and play the Masters, I think I won’t feel that much fear because I have gone through a similar experience.”
Niemann, who plans to turn professional if he does not win this week, also tied for third in this championship in 2016 at Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic. He begins play at 12:26 this afternoon (2:26 Eastern Standard Time in the U.S.) with Ivan Camilo Ramirez of Colombia and Jorge Garcia of Venezuela, who was the runner-up to Paul Chaplet of Costa Rica in 2016.
World Amateur Ranking on Rise
When Joaquin Niemann earned the McCormack Medal as the No. 1 amateur in the world, it marked the first time that a player from South America captured the honor. It also shows the continued traction that the World Amateur Golf Ranking (WAGR) has gained since The R&A initiated it in January 2007 as the global standard for the amateur game.
When the USGA announced its support of the WAGR in February 2011, there were 3,492 counting events around the world. That number rose to 4,510 for 2014, an increase of nearly 30 percent. Today, the WAGR and the Women’s World
Amateur Golf Ranking, which was launched in 2011, have more than 4,000 counting events worldwide, with more than 8,700 players in their combined rankings. More than 100 countries are represented among the player ranks.
Niemann became the 31st player to assume the No. 1 ranking in its 11 years when he assumed the top spot in May 2017 from Maverick McNealy of the U.S. Niemann has held that position for 36 weeks, as of the Jan. 18 ranking.
The R&A and the USGA have used both the men’s and women’s rankings as exemption categories for their amateur championships for several years, along with many other national and regional governing bodies. Rankings are based on
players’ average performances in counting events over a rolling period of 104 weeks in events that are graded based on the quality of the field. There are eight categories of events, a handful of which are Elite level (such as The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur and the NCAA Championships).
Leona Maguire of Ireland, who is a senior at Duke University in the U.S., was named the winner of the McCormack Medal for the third consecutive year as the leading women’s player in 2017. She has held the top spot for 77 weeks running, and 129 weeks overall since May 2015.
This joint R&A and USGA award is named after Mark H. McCormack, who founded the sports marketing company IMG and was a staunch supporter of amateur golf.
Facts and Figures
- The youngest player in the field is 14-year-old Justin Hastings from the Cayman Islands. He is the youngest competitor in the history of the championship. Seven players in the field are under age 18. The oldest player is 51-year-old Eugene Edwin from St. Lucia – there are only eight players in the field over age 40.
- The dates for this year’s LAAC were pushed back two days after the Vatican released plans for a visit by Pope Francis to Chile from Jan. 15-18.
- This championship is a 72-hole stroke-play event. The field will be cut to the low 50 players (and ties) after 36 holes – it was low 60 and ties in the inaugural year.