When The Masters tournament and the R&A teamed to launch the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship in 2009, R&A Chief Executive Peter Dawson told ESPN.com, “I hope to see more of this going forward.”
Dawson’s wish came true today when The Masters and R&A, along with the USGA, announced a similar championship for Latin America. The inaugural Latin America Amateur Championship will be played Jan. 15-18, 2015, at Pilar Golf outside Buenos Aires.
Like the Asia-Pacific Amateur, the Latin America Amateur will reward its champion with a Masters berth, with the winner and runners-up also receiving exemptions into final qualifying for the Open Championship. In addition, the Latin America champion will receive exemptions into the British Amateur, U.S. Amateur and any other USGA amateur championship for which he is eligible, with the winner and runners-up also earning exemptions into U.S. Open sectional qualifying.
Unveiling the tournament at a Buenos Aires news conference alongside Dawson and USGA Executive Director Mike Davis, Masters Chairman Billy Payne signaled the founders’ intention to replicate the Asia-Pacific Amateur, a tournament established with the goal of identifying “heroes who would inspire others to take up the game” in a region ripe for golf development. Among its winners have been Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama (2010, 2011), who has risen to 24th in the world as a fledgling professional, and China’s Guan Tianlang (2012), who made the cut in the 2013 Masters as a 14-year-old despite drawing a slow-play penalty. And in Guan’s homeland, the game is by most accounts booming.
Although Latin America already boasts its share of golfing heroes – World Golf Hall of Famer Roberto De Vicenzo, two-time major champion Ángel Cabrera and PGA Tour winners Camilo Villegas, José Cóceres, Jhonattan Vegas and Andrés Romero among them – the region has great growth potential (not to mention great golf weather).
If it emulates the successful Asia-Pacific template, the Latin America Amateur stands to complement golf’s return to the Olympics at Rio de Janeiro in 2016 and last year’s establishment of the PGA Tour Latinoamérica developmental circuit as growth catalysts.