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Gallegos secures Open spot

Argentina’s Abel Gallegos claimed his country’s maiden victory at the Latin America Amateur Championship on Sunday, shooting a four-under-par 67 to win by four strokes at Mayakoba’s El Camaleón Golf Club.

Mexico’s Aaron Terrazas inspired the home fans with a thrilling late charge of 67 to finish runner-up, while Colombia’s Jose Vega shot 74 to take third.

With the victory, the 17-year-old Gallegos becomes the second-youngest LAAC champion and earns exemptions into The 149th Open at Royal St George’s in July and the 2020 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club in April.

Amazing day

“It was an amazing day,” Gallegos said. “It was difficult to get up in the morning, knowing I had all this pressure. Last night, when I put my head on the pillow, I had all types of thoughts running through my head. But when I woke up, I stood up, I looked at myself in the mirror and I said, ‘You can do this. Let’s do it.’”

Gallegos, who hails from the small town of Veinticinco de Mayo, learned the game on a nine-hole course named Las Mulitas, or Little Mules,  will be the 14th Argentine and just the third amateur from Argentina to compete in the Masters Tournament.

Message from a master

Angel Cabrera, the Argentine legend who won the 2009 Masters, sent a message to Gallegos after the final round in which he offered his congratulations and added, “I will be waiting for you at the Masters so you can enjoy that great tournament.”

Gallegos smiled when told of Cabrera’s sentiment, saying, “He is a hero back home. To have him congratulate me, it is everything.”

Columbia’s Vega made a surge in the middle of the championship, shooting 65 in the second round on Friday to seize the lead and held it after a solid 72 on Saturday. A former collegiate golfer at Bellevue University in Nebraksa, he now works as a regional director of sales for a golf technology company. When he first made plans for this event, he also scheduled in a business meeting on Sunday morning.

Vega challenge

Instead, he was in the mix for the title. Vega made a valiant effort to hold off Gallegos’s charge, but a double-bogey on 14 after a wayward drive into the penalty area made a comeback all but impossible.

“I have seen a lot of good swings and a lot of good trajectories, and this kid is really good,” Vega said of Gallegos. “He is going to be a superstar.”

After three days of high winds on the Riviera Maya, the conditions for the final round were more conducive to scoring. The field produced just 10 rounds under par in the first three days combined, but 12 players broke par on the last day including Terrazas, who played one group in front of the leaders and birdied three of his last six holes to apply some pressure.

“I’m extremely proud of myself,” Terrazas said. “At the beginning of the day, I just wanted to give myself a shot on the back nine of this tournament and I did that.”

Stylish victory

Gallegos, however, couldn’t be caught. Starting the day two shots behind Vega, Gallegos made a par on the opening hole when he snaked an approach shot from out of the jungle up to the green while Vega bogeyed. Gallegos pulled level with a birdie on three, then zoomed away from Vega and the rest of the field with controlled performance. Gallegos made just one double bogey all week and played his final 20 holes in six under par. He birdied the last hole to finish in style.

With Argentines having fallen just short of the title in two previous editions of the LAAC, there was a growing pressure for one of South America’s great golfing countries to finally win one and Gallegos delivered.

“For me, it’s an immense pride,” he said. “To put my country up there with the best is something that makes me very proud. Hopefully, more Argentinians will go on to win this tournament in the future.” 

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