PLAYA DEL CARMEN, MEXICO | Finalmente!
That was no doubt the sentiment of the entire golf community of Argentina when their 17-year-old countryman Abel Gallegos won the 2020 Latin America Amateur. After all, Argentina long has been the leading golf land in the region, with more courses than any other nation there (349) and more registered golfers (some 50,000). It also is home to the only golfer from Latin America in the World Golf Hall of Fame (Roberto De Vicenzo), and to the only winners of major golf championships from this part of the world (De Vicenzo in the 1967 Open Championship and Ángel Cabrera in the 2007 U.S. Open and the 2009 Masters). As a result, people from that place expected an Argentine to win the Latin America Amateur from the moment that it was created. If not the first time it was played, in 2015 at the Pilar Golf Club outside Buenos Aires, then certainly in the next year or two.
But Chile turned out to be the country that dominated the LAAC, with golfers from Argentina’s neighbor to the west winning three of the first five of those championships – and players from Costa Rica and Mexico taking the other two. And that was in spite of Argentina having some of the best amateurs in the world competing in each one. Like Alejandro Tosti and Gastón Bertinotti. Andrés Schönbaum, too.
Things were different this time around with Gallegos, a sturdy, apple-cheeked lad who looks like he could play rugby with equal aplomb. And surprisingly so, as he was playing in only his first LAAC and was not on anyone’s pre-tournament lists of favorites. Anyone, that is, aside from his parents as well as his younger brother and sister, each of whom walked each hole with Gallegos during Sunday’s final round over the El Camaleón Golf Club course at Mayakoba Resort.
Gallegos started that day in sole possession of second place, just two shots back of leader José Vega, a 26-year-old Colombian. And the Argentine quickly made his move, making birdies on three of the first seven holes to jump into first place. He held a three-shot lead after 15 holes, and enjoyed that same advantage when he stepped to the 18th tee. Gallegos coolly pulled out a driver and crushed his tee shot down the middle of the fairway. He then hit a wedge stiff and drained his birdie putt for a four-shot victory that earned him trip to Augusta National for this year’s Masters. With his triumph, Gallegos also earned an exemption into the Open Championship, which was offered for the first time this year by the R&A.
Mexico's Aaron Terrazas (closing 67) finished second, while Vega (74) was third, five strokes behind the winner.
Though he is only a teenager, Gallegos clearly appreciated the enormity of his accomplishment for people back home when he said: “I dedicate this to all of Argentina.”
Now that nation has a Latin America Amateur champion.