LATIN AMERICA AMATEUR
LAAC Notebook: Eyes on the Prize? Not so Much January 14, 2015 | Buenos Aires, Argentina By Ron Driscoll, USGA

Despite a nagging back injury, Ian Facey managed to shoot a 4-under 68 in Thursday's first round. (Enrique Berardi/LAAC)

On the eve of the inaugural Latin America Amateur Championship, Wilson Sibbett, chairman of The R&A, made clear the stakes that the 109 competitors were playing for.

“On Sunday evening, we look forward to crowning a new champion for this region,” said Sibbett. “And that person’s life will change, probably forever.”

In Thursday’s opening round on the par-72, 7,233-yard Pilar Golf course, players began to jockey for position in the race for a berth in the 2015 Masters Tournament, as well as spots in the 2015 U.S. and British Amateur championships and entries into final qualifying for the 2015 U.S. and British Opens. The trick, of course, is not to want it too much.

“I think that if you think about the prize you’re playing for, you’re done,” said Gaston Bertinotti, of Argentina, who shot an opening 68 and is one of four players tied for the lead. “I think you just need to play hole-by-hole, shot-by-shot and give your best. If you do that, you’re going to be fighting for the lead. If you think too much, you’ll mess up.”

Bertinotti, 19, is a sophomore at Campbell University in North Carolina, where he is working hard to climb in the World Amateur Golf Ranking™. Bertinotti holds the seventh-best position in the WAGR among the 10 Argentines in the field at No. 709. Alejandro Tosti, who is among three Argentines who shot 69 on Thursday, holds the highest spot at No. 64.

“I have a really good relationship with every single player here who is playing for Argentina,” said Bertinotti. “If a friend of mine goes to the Masters and it’s not me, I’m going to be happy for him. We are all here for the same purpose, and we are also trying to make Argentina feel happy for us that we’re doing good things.”

Bertinotti was asked to describe his days as a student-athlete at Campbell, a Division I school in the town of Buies Creek.

“I get up earlier than everybody else,” said Bertinotti. “We work out at 5:30 a.m. three days a week as a team, and we also work out on our own. Classes are every day from 8 a.m. to 2:30, and then we practice. After everyone finishes and leaves, I stay for an extra hour by myself.”

Bertinotti led the Campbell squad in stroke average in his first semester there, and was the runnerup for the Camels in the Big South Conference tournament. He is a native of Cordoba, the same city as 2009 Masters champion Angel Cabrera, and perhaps Bertinotti will one day join his hero in the field at Augusta National – if he doesn’t want it too much.

Co-Leader Overcomes Back Woes

Ian Facey, of Jamaica, hit 16 greens in regulation on Thursday on the way to an opening round of 68, which gives him a share of the LAAC lead. Not bad for someone who has only been able to compete in one 2014-15 event for his college, Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Facey counts Miguel Angel Jimenez Jr. and Santiago Gomez, of Colombia, a fellow competitor at this event who opened with a 69, among his Shark teammates, but he hasn’t been able to join them in competition because of a nagging back injury.

“It’s bothered me on and off since March,” said Facey, a 21-year-old senior who helped the team advance to match play in the NCAA Division II Tournament in 2013. “I pulled myself out of qualifying after one tournament in the fall and spent most of my time rehabbing my back.”

Facey is No. 3,181 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, but he is sure to climb if he can keep the back woes at bay.

“It’s definitely been tough mentally,” he said. “A lot of tee shots I haven’t been able to go at like I used to. I’m scared to hurt it again. I’ve just been kind of putting heat on it. Thankfully, it’s nothing to do with the discs.”

At the moment, Facey leads his teammate Gomez by one, and he admits to a friendly rivalry.

“We didn’t talk about it [this week], but it’s always there, the competition,” said Facey. “We always want to beat each other. By doing that, we push each other to do our best.”

As long as he doesn’t push his back too hard.

Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at rdriscoll@usga.org.