Joaquin Niemann of Chile, the No. 1-ranked player in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, played a blazing stretch of seven holes in seven-under-par midway through the final round to seize the fourth Latin America Amateur Championship (LAAC) at Prince of Wales Country Club.
Niemann, 19, became the third player from his home country to win the LAAC in four years, and he did it before hundreds of partisan fans in his hometown of Santiago. His final round of eight-under-par 63 broke the championship record and helped him finish at 11-under-par total of 273 for the week as he overcame a one-stroke deficit to Alvaro Ortiz of Mexico, entering the final round.
Ortiz, 22, a senior at the University of Arkansas, finished alone in second after a closing round of two-under 69 for a six-under total of 278. He was one stroke better than three players: Jaime Lopez Rivarola of Argentina, Gabriel Morgan Birke of Chile, and Daniel Gurtner of Guatemala.
Niemann drove the green on the 313-yard, par-4 eighth hole thanks to a fortuitous bounce off a tree, then sank the eagle putt to start his winning run. He reeled off four consecutive birdies on holes 9-12, and after a par on the 13th, he added a two-putt birdie on the par-5 14th.
Chile’s Toto Gana, who defeated Niemann and Ortiz in a playoff to win the 2017 championship, and was tied with Niemann at three-under to start the final round on Tuesday, closed with a one-over 72 and finished in a tie for seventh place.
Exemptions for Champion and Runner-up
Joaquin Niemann receives an invitation to compete in the 2018 Masters at Augusta National Golf Club, as well as full exemptions into The Amateur Championship, U.S. Amateur Championship and any other USGA amateur championship for which he is eligible. In addition, Niemann and Alvaro Ortiz will be exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The 147th Open at Carnoustie and the 2018 U.S. Open Championship at Shinnecock Hills.
He commented, “After I made that eagle on the eighth hole and I birdied nine, 10, 11 and 12, I didn't watch the leaderboard until the 14th hole. I realized at that moment that I had a huge advantage over the other players, so I thought maybe this was going to be my tournament.
“When I got there [18th green] and I had a very short putt to make par, I was just very happy and it felt really good to be there celebrating with the people that were walking with me.
“What really helped me was the playoff last year [at the LAAC]. That gave me a lot of experience. I think having two Chileans hoist that trophy before was also a big influence.
“Playing Augusta is going to be really difficult. You have to know that golf course. I've played the Masters only through games, video games.
“If I have the chance to play with Sergio Garcia, it could be great because I imagine he's going to help me with a game plan and let me know where the difficulties are and how to play that golf course. Since I was able to play the U.S. Open, thanks to the Latin America Amateur Championship, I've gone through a similar experience, and I just can't wait to get there and see what happens.”
Ortiz added, “After those first nine holes, I was really calm. I wasn't nervous at all. I was doing everything right, and it's not easy to watch the leaderboard and to notice that even though you're playing great, it's not just running, it's a sprint.
“Hats off to Joaquin. He did an amazing job. I'm not really that disappointed because I think I played really well. I think that we learn more from the defeat than in our victories. I think that I played well this week, and I'm going to take all the positives I can.”