On Saturday, when Paul Chaplet, 16, of Costa Rica, briefly took the third-round lead in the Latin America Amateur Championship with an eagle on the 14th hole, he did not look at the leader board, and promptly triple-bogeyed the ensuing hole. On Sunday, as he came down the final stretch of seaside holes at Casa de Campo’s Teeth of the Dog Course, he knew exactly where he stood.
“I realized that I could win this tournament when I looked at the 14th-hole leader board,” said Chaplet, who will enter his senior year at St. Mary High School in San Jose next month. “I was 3 under, and I knew that if I could just get that birdie on 14, and have a little cushion on the last four holes, I might have a chance – and that’s exactly what I did.”
Chaplet executed a delicate chip shot that led to a tap-in birdie on the 485-yard, par-5 14th to take a one-stroke lead, then outdueled a tightly bunched group of players down the stretch to capture a one-stroke victory with a winning total of 3-under-par 285.
Jorge Garcia, of Venezuela, who was tied with Chaplet as he played the par-4 17th hole, hit his approach shot into a fronting bunker and made bogey. Garcia played a brilliant approach shot to the final green, but missed a 10-foot birdie putt that would have forced a playoff and finished at 2-under 286.
With the victory, Chaplet earns an invitation to the 2016 Masters Tournament in April, as well as exemptions into The Amateur Championship (conducted by The R&A) and the U.S. Amateur Championship (conducted by the United States Golf Association). He also earns spots in final qualifying for The 145th Open Championship and the 2016 U.S. Open.
By the time he returned on Sunday to the daunting closing stretch of four holes that he had played in 4 over par in Round 3, Chaplet had long shrugged off his Saturday struggles.
“I finished that round with a smile because, however you finish, you’re still under par,” said Chaplet, who stood at 1 under, in a tie for fifth place entering the final round. “Compared to last year, when I had an 81 in that third round, you can’t do better than 71. And I knew that it was a good position. I didn’t have the lead, so I didn’t have that pressure.”
Gaston Bertinotti, 20, of Argentina, a junior at Campbell University in North Carolina, held a one-stroke advantage through 54 holes, but nearly overslept on Sunday morning and had to hustle to make his starting time. He played his outward nine in 4-over 40 on the way to a round of 77, and finished in a four-way tie for sixth place.
Alejandro Tosti, 19, a teammate of Garcia’s at the University of Florida and the runner-up in last year’s inaugural LAAC, started the day in solo third place, but played his first 11 holes in 4 over. He finished strongly for a third-place tie at 1-under 287 with Joaquin Niemann, of Chile, and Luis Fernando Barco, of Peru, who was one of three players to tie for the day’s low round of 69.
After two pars to start his day, Chaplet made a tap-in birdie on the 534-yard, par-5 third hole. He added back-to-back birdies on Nos. 7 and 8, but made his first bogey of the day on the difficult par-3 13th hole, which had as many bogeys (21) as pars for the day.
On No. 14, the easiest hole of the day with a 4.54 stroke average, Chaplet was determined to get the stroke back. His second shot on the par 5 went over the green and left him with a slightly downhill chip to a green that sloped away. He executed it with perfect touch, and later called it the crucial shot of the day.
“It was not an easy chip shot, and I knew I needed to make something good there,” said Chaplet. “That shot gave me momentum to keep going, and really gave me a positive attitude on the holes that came after.”
Chaplet changed caddies on Sunday, with Andres Russi, a friend since they were 5 years old, taking over the bag.
“He asked me if he could be my caddie, and I obviously answered yes,” said Chaplet, who won his age division in the US Kids Teen Worlds last July. “We communicate well, he knows my game and he knows how I think, which is the most important part.”
The closing four holes of Casa de Campo played an average of two strokes over par for the 50-player field on Sunday, so Chaplet’s bogey after missing the green to the left on the par-3 16th was not unexpected. He made a pair of solid pars on Nos. 17 and 18, then waited out Garcia’s final birdie bid.
“I feel like with the way I hit the ball, I had more than enough chances to win this championship,” said Garcia. “It’s something that gives me a lot of confidence, and I’ll just work harder next year.”
The third LAAC will be contested Jan. 12-15, 2017, at Club de Golf de Panama in Panama City.
For more information about the LAAC, including latest news, schedule, spectator information and a roster of players competing, please visit www.LAACgolf.com.