Puerto Rico’s Roberto Nieves found the perfect way to celebrate the news that next year’s Latin America Amateur Championship will be staged in his country by shooting a six-under-par 66 to tie for the lead after the opening round of this year’s championship at Casa de Campo’s Teeth of the Dog course.
Nieves is tied with Segundo Oliva Pinto of Argentina and the pair hold a two-shot lead over Pinto’s countryman Vicente Marzilio, Andrey Borges of Brazil and Martin León of Chile who carded opening 68s.
The LAAC, being staged for the seventh time and the third at Casa de Campo, offers the winner an automatic invitation to the Masters Tournament and The Open and a place in the final stages of qualifying for the US Open.
The 2023 venue for the LAAC was confirmed earlier today as Grand Reserve Golf Club in Puerto Rico and the announcement gave Nieves added momentum.
Accuracy the key
“I hit the ball great. I hit 17 greens and put the ball exactly where I was supposed to put it. I played great in the wind which is the hard part about this golf course”, said Nieves about his round. “I feel like I have been an underdog for a while and my game is starting to come together.”
Pinto is one of three Argentinians in the top ten after the first round. “We still have three days and none of this is going to be easy. I am ready to play well and do whatever I need to do”, said 22-year-old Pinto, who plays for Arkansas, and put together a bogey-free round, while Nieves, 21, made five birdies in his final nine holes.
Marzilio, a 20-year-old who plays at North Texas, hit four birdies in a row during his first nine holes.
Borges also shot a first-round 68 and was inspired by the strength of the LAAC field. “The better my competitors play the better I do and the better I hit the ball. Segundo is a great player among many good players here”, said Borges, who played alongside the Argentine co-leader.
In his first LAAC appearance, Chile’s Martin León shot a 68 as well with a bogey-free front nine to land at four-under-par just below the leaders.
The 20-year-old started his LAAC debut on the 10th tee and made the turn at four-under-par but followed it up with three bogeys and three birdies in his last nine holes to finish leading the pack. León, who plays golf at the University of Utah, came into this week ranked 808th in the World Amateur Golf Rankings and is now attempting to become the fourth Chilean to win this event.
“On the back nine, the wind started blowing harder and I got a bit nervous from the tee,” León said. “But I managed to hit got shots when I needed and when I hit bad shots, I managed to recover”.
The wind became a factor as the day progressed. An early start for Colombian Juan Camilo Vesga propelled him to four birdies in his first five holes but, as the wind picked up, he was one of many who were affected by the conditions on the back nine holes that run parallel to the Caribbean coast. He finished on two-under.
Eighteen of the 102 players in the field finished the first round under par, including defending champion Abel Gallegos of Argentina who shot a two-under-par round of 70.
Mateo Fernandez de Oliveira, who arrived as the top-ranked amateur, is the other Argentinian in the top ten after the first round. He followed up his recent win at the South American Amateur Championship in Ecuador with an opening round of 69 that didn’t feature a single bogey.
“The first birdies took a long time. However, one of my goals for the week was to stay patient and that’s how I was over the first 11 holes with 11 pars. It was key to stay patient and just play my game", said Fernández de Oliveira
Among the veterans, forty-year-old Jeronimo Esteve shot a 3-under 69. “It was kind of a crazy round,” Puerto Rican Esteve said. “It is so intense out here, even in the first round. You have to commit on every shot and for the most part I was able to do that today."
Tomorrow’s second round gets underway at 7.25am local time.
For more information, scoring and championship content visit LAACgolf.com.