LA ROMANA, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC | Tournament organizers announced that the 2023 edition of the Latin America Amateur Championship will be staged Jan. 12-15 at the Grand Reserve Golf Club in Puerto Rico.
Located on the island’s northeast coast, Grand Reserve features a Tom Kite course that sits on the edge of a rainforest and overlooks several lagoons. The club has a strong résumé as a tournament host, having been the site of the PGA Tour’s Puerto Rico Open since 2008. In addition, it will be the venue this spring for the U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball, marking the first time a USGA championship has been held outside of the American mainland.
As the head of the Puerto Rico Golf Association since 1995, Sidney Wolf has long been pushing for the Latin America Amateur to be played there. Now that the decision has been made to go to Grand Reserve, he says he could not be more thrilled.
“Obviously, when we talk about the Latin America Amateur, we are talking the ultimate,” Wolf explained. “We know the event will be conducted at the highest standards. And we know we will have millions of people watching on television all over the world. It will be for us a great way to showcase the wonderful golf in Puerto Rico and the passion people have for the game there. We cannot wait.”
Julián Périco of Peru led the tournament after two rounds at 9-under par 135. That broke the LAAC record for a 36-hole score that was set in the inaugural playing of this event in 2015 by André Tourinho of Brazil. And it left Périco three strokes ahead of his University of Arkansas teammate Segundo Oliva Pinto of Argentina.
The cut was at 6-over par, and those who made it represented a record 22 countries and territories. Four of the six golfers from the host nation of the Dominican Republic reached weekend play, as did the two past champions in the field – Paul Chaplet of Costa Rica (who won in 2016) and Argentine Abel Gallegos (2020).
Yadhu Urs of St. Lucia was the first golfer from that East Caribbean nation to make the cut in the LAAC. Just 18 years old, he is a sophomore this year at Wheeling University in West Virginia.
Kurt Rivers of Turks & Caicos also broke through for his homeland. And in addition to being the only golfer from that British Overseas Territory in this year’s championship, he also was the first in tournament history to get to weekend play. That is quite a feat considering that Turks & Caicos, an archipelago of low-lying coral islands, is not exactly a hotbed for golf, with only one place for people to play – and less than 100 registered golfers.
Per usual, the range of ages of competitors in the Latin American Amateur was vast, going from the graybeard of the group, 53-year-old Álvaro Ortiz of Costa Rica, who has competed in all seven LAACs, to 14-year-old Ezequiel Cabrera of Paraguay.
In addition to being the youngest at this year’s tourney, Cabrera also has among the strongest golfing pedigrees. He is the son of a golf instructor and the nephew of Carlos Franco, who has won four times on the PGA Tour and posted a pair of top-10s in the Masters. He also competed in a pair of Presidents Cups for the International team. Another uncle of Cabrera’s, Ángel Franco, has triumphed on the circuit now called the Korn Ferry Tour.
All told, 102 golfers from 29 countries competed in this year’s Latin America Am. As is often the case, Argentina boasted the most with eight players in the field, while Venezuela was next with seven.
The University of Arkansas was nearly as well-represented as those two countries, with five members of its men’s team competing in this year’s edition of the 72-hole, stroke-play championship. The oldest and most experienced of those Razorbacks, with five LAAC appearances and a T6 finish in the 2020 tournament, was Peru’s Périco. In addition to gaining recognition these past few years as one of the better young players in this part of the world, Périco also garnered some notoriety last month caddying for Arkansas alum John Daly at the PNC Championship, which the two-time major winner won with his son John Daly II. The younger Daly also plays for the Razorbacks and is a friend and teammate of Périco’s.
Another member of that formidable squad is Mateo Fernández de Oliveira of Argentina, who in addition to winning last year’s Stephens Cup recently won the South American Am.
For new USGA chief executive officer Mike Whan, this was his first Latin America Amateur. He came away impressed.
“It felt like a major amateur championship,” Whan said. “The level of detail, the organization. It reminded me of where golf is from a collaborative standpoint and how the leaders of the game work so well together to create something as special as this.”