PLAYA DEL CARMEN, MEXICO | Mentoring long has been a part of the Masters, and who among us does not appreciate the past champions who play practice rounds with first-time contestants and share their thoughts on how to score on that complicated Augusta National course. I love watching youngsters walk up and down fairways and around greens with graybeards who have green jackets to their names. And I relish the stories those up-and-comers tell afterwards about what a Ben Crenshaw or a Tom Watson shared with them. About golf, to be sure. But also about life on and off the course as competitive players, and how to make it all work.
I thought of these things as I sat through a news conference during last week’s Latin America Amateur that featured three past champions of this tournament. They all are still in their 20s, and two have yet to finish college. But they are wise beyond their years, and the good sense they impart makes me think of those Masters mentors – and makes me realize that these golfers are doing much the same thing here at the LAAC.
The answers that impressed me the most were to a simple question: “Why haven’t any of you become tour professionals?”
“For me, I still have to finish college,” said 20-year-old Paul Chaplet, a lanky, blond-haired Costa Rican who won the 2016 Latin America Amateur and recently transferred from Arizona State to Sam Houston State. “After that, I probably won’t turn pro until I feel ready to do so, or really want to.”
Next up was 2017 champion Toto Gana of Chile, who is 22 years old and a senior at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla. “For me, I did not feel ready to turn pro when I won the LAAC,” said Gana, who earned first-team Division II All-American honors last season and was Lynn’s male athlete of the year. “I was also just starting college and thought it was important to finish school before even thinking about turning pro.”
Then, there was Matías Domínguez, another Chilean who captured the inaugural Latin America Am in 2015. Now 27, the Texas Tech graduate works for a financial services company in his country’s capital of Santiago. “I did not turn pro after I won because I still had to finish college,” he said. “But I realized after receiving my degree that I had really accomplished all I wanted to with golf. So, I found happiness in other places as I also kept playing tournaments on occasion as an amateur.”
What great messages those are. And what wonderful mentors.
Top: Toto Gana, Matías Domínguez and Paul Chaplet