Latin America Amateur Championship: What Is The LAAC?

As the eighth Latin America Amateur Championship gets underway in Puerto Rico, we consider the significance of the event.

What is the LAAC
The Latin America Amateur Championship Trophy
(Image credit: LAAC)

This week sees the eighth running of the Latin America Amateur Championship to be held at Grand Reserve Golf Club in Puerto Rico.

The winner of the event will earn an invitation to compete in the 2023 Masters, a start in the 151st Open Championship at Royal Liverpool, and a start in the 123rd US Open at Los Angeles Country Club.

The background

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

It followed the success of the Asia Pacific Amateur Championship (AAC) that has been run since 2009 by the R&A and The Masters, together with the Asia Pacific Golf Confederation.

That event has proved hugely effective in growing the game in the Asia Pacific region, producing inspirational champions like Hideki Matsuyama.

The incredible prizes on offer at the LAAC have, in just eight years of its existence, inspired and incentivised players and federations in the region to focus their efforts and develop their elite programmes.

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.

10 former LAAC players have gone on to win events on the PGA Tour, Korn Ferry Tour and PGA Tour Latinoamerica.

The prizes

The prizes

The Prizes at the LAAC

(Image credit: LAAC)

The LAAC champion receives an invitation to compete in the 2023 Masters at Augusta National Golf Club and  will automatically qualify for The 151st Open at Royal Liverpool and, for the first time, will earn a spot in the 123rd US Open at Los Angeles Country Club.

The winner also receives full exemptions into The 128th 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 151st Open and the 123rd U.S. Open Championship.

The vision

The LAAC is just one element of the R&A’s extensive and on-going work to promote and grow the sport of golf around the world.

The move in 2020 to offer the champion a place in The Open (as with the AAC) demonstrates how the event has grown and evolved in a relatively short space of time.

This year’s event will feature 108 players from 28 different countries in the Latin America region.

That region extends from Mexico through Central America, including the Caribbean, and down to South America. Host country Puerto Rico has nine representatives this year with Brazil, Argentina and Colombia the next best represented with eight entrants each.

The importance of the event in developing talent is demonstrated by the fact that no fewer than 72 of the 108 starters are either past, present or future students at U.S Colleges.

The course for 2023

Grand Reserve

The course at Grand Reserve, Puerto Rico

(Image credit: LAAC)

Designed by 1992 U.S. Open champion Tom Kite, Grand Reserve Golf Club sits on Puerto Rico's north east coast and overlooks El Yunque National Forest. The course has been host to the PGA Tour's Puerto Rico Open since 2008. Tony Finau (2016) and Viktor Hovland (2020) both won their first PGA Tour titles at Grand Reserve Golf Club.

It's a testing layout with water in play on a number of holes. Recent rains have left the fairways soft and, with a total yardage of over 7,300 yards, those with the ability to hit the long ball will have an advantage this week. Another of the course's main defences is the wind which can be unpredictable owing to the influence of both the mountains and the sea.

History of the LAAC

The inaugural LAAC was won, in 2015, by Chile’s Matias Dominguez at Pilar Golf in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Matias Dominguez

Matias Dominguez

The 22-year-old senior at Texas Tech University carded a four-round total of 11-under-par to finish one ahead of home player Alejandro Tosti.

The following year, over Pete Dye’s Teeth of the Dog course at Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic, 16-year-old Paul Chaplet from Costa Rica was the winner.

Paul Chaplet wins Latin America Amateur

Paul Chaplet wins 2016 Latin America Amateur

He held his nerve coming down the stretch to beat Venezuela’s Jorge Garcia by a single shot.

2017 saw the first and, so far, only playoff in the LAAC. It was Chile’s Toto Gana who came out on top at Club de Golf de Panama.

Toto Gana wins Latin America Amateur Championship

Toto Gana wins 2017 Latin America Amateur Championship

The 19-year-old defeated his countryman Joaquin Niemann and Mexico’s Alvaro Ortiz at the second extra hole.

Although disappointed to miss out in extra holes, both Niemann and Ortiz would have their days.

It was Niemann who triumphed 12-months later at the Prince of Wales Country Club in Santiago.

The 2018 champion, Joaquin Niemann

The 19-year-old became the third Chilean player in the first four years of the LAAC to take the title.

Niemann has gone on to enjoy significant success in the professional ranks.

A winner on the PGA Tour, he played in the 2019 Presidents Cup and is now on the LIV Golf Tour.

Alvaro Ortiz receives the trophy

In 2019 the LAAC returned to the Dominican Republic where Mexico’s Alvaro Ortiz scored a deserving win.

It was his fifth and final appearance in the championship and he signed off in style with a two-shot win over Costa Rica’s Luis Gagne.

Ortiz became the first LAAC winner to make the cut in The Masters three months later and he then went on to turn professional.

Abel Gallegos

Abel Gallegos

(Image credit: LAAC)

In 2020, 17-year-old Abel Gallegos became Argentina's first LAAC champion. He posted an excellent final round of four-under-par 67 to win by four shots at Playa del Carmen in Mayakoba, Mexico. Conditions were tough for the week and Gallegos was the only player to beat par over 72 holes.

The Covid crisis meant no tournament was contested in 2021 but in 2022 the event returned for a third time to the Teeth of the Dog Course in the Dominican Republic.

Aaron Jarvis

Aaron Jarvis

(Image credit: LAAC)

In that event, 19-year-old Aaron Jarvis made history by becoming the first player from the Cayman Islands to win, and to compete in both The Masters and The Open Championship.

Jarvis held his nerve to finish one clear of a group of four players. It was quite a triumph for a player from a nation of just 70,000 people with just 27 golf holes on the three islands.

Fergus Bisset
Contributing Editor

Fergus 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 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?