Three Players Lead Latin America Amateur Championship

Omar Morales, Santiago de la Fuente and Jose Arzu lead the ninth instalment of the Latin America Amateur Championship through one round at the Santa Maria Golf Club in Panama.

Omar Morales
Omar Morales of Mexico
(Image credit: LAAC)

Mexicans Omar Morales and Santiago de la Fuente and Guatemala's Jose Arzu fired excellent opening rounds of 69 in testing, windy conditions to lead the Latin America Amateur Championship (LAAC) at the Santa Maria Golf Club in Panama.  

Omar Morales posted the best score of the morning starters – a one-under-par 69. The 20-year-old reached three-under at one point during his round but he suffered a double bogey on his 16th hole, the 7th at Santa Maria GC.

“I think my putting was really good. My driving was really good. I guess my irons a little bit, especially distance control, but it's also hard because the wind is in a different direction and it's blowing pretty hard,” he said. “But, I sunk a lot of putts and that really helps.”

Morales is the highest ranked player in the field this week. He competed in last year’s US Open at Los Angeles Country Club and is a member of the University of Los Angeles golf team.

Morales' countryman Santiago de la Fuente, finished with a birdie to match his fellow Mexican's 69 and Guatemala's Jose Arzu also shot one-under with a round that contained four birdies and three bogeys. Both players were amongst the last finishers on day one.

44-year-old Alejandro Villavicencio of Guatemala, one of the most experienced players in the field, played a supremely solid round of level-par and was delighted with the way he battled.

“I think just being in contention, being there at the last nine holes for the tournament with a chance, it's all I can ask for.  These kids are good,” he said.” But I think par each day is going to be really good.”

The prizes on offer in Panama this week could be life changing for the victor.

The LAAC champion receives an invitation to compete in the 2024 Masters at Augusta National Golf Club and  will automatically qualify for The 152nd Open at Royal Troon and, for the second time, will earn a spot in the US Open - the 124th instalment of which will take place at Pinehurst.

The winner also receives full exemptions into The 129th Amateur Championship, U.S. Amateur Championship and any other USGA amateur championship for which he is eligible.

Runner(s)-up will be exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The 152nd Open and the 124th U.S. Open Championship.

Founded by The R&A, The Masters and The USGA, the LAAC was inaugurated with a view to developing the game of golf in Central and South America and the Caribbean.

Since it was first contested in Buenos Aires in 2015, the 72-hole strokeplay tournament has produced great champions and a number of top players.

Joaquin Niemann of Chile who won the LAAC in 2018 on home soil in Santiago, is perhaps the best-known graduate.

Others to have played in the event include Sebastian Munoz, Mito Pereira and Alvaro Ortiz.

There have now been 24 victories by former LAAC players on the PGA Tour, Korn Ferry Tour and PGA Tour Americas.

Fergus Bisset
Contributing Editor

Fergus is Golf Monthly's resident expert on the history of the game and has written extensively on that subject. He is a golf obsessive and 1-handicapper. Growing up in the North East of Scotland, golf runs through his veins and his passion for the sport was bolstered during his time at St Andrews university studying history. He went on to earn a post graduate diploma from the London School of Journalism. Fergus has worked for Golf Monthly since 2004 and has written two books on the game; "Great Golf Debates" together with Jezz Ellwood of Golf Monthly and the history section of "The Ultimate Golf Book" together with Neil Tappin , also of Golf Monthly. 

Fergus once shanked a ball from just over Granny Clark's Wynd on the 18th of the Old Course that struck the St Andrews Golf Club and rebounded into the Valley of Sin, from where he saved par. Who says there's no golfing god?