LATIN AMERICA AMATEUR
2018 LAAC Another Boost to Chile's Golf Fortunes January 12, 2017 | Panama City, Panama By Ron Driscoll, USGA

Joaquin Niemann, of Chile, entered this year's LAAC as the top player in the World Amateur Golf Ranking at No. 5. (LAAC/Enrique Berardi) 

Matias Dominguez won’t have far to travel for the 2018 Latin America Amateur Championship.

“We used to live right off the fourth hole, but we moved,” said Dominguez, 23, the winner of the inaugural LAAC in 2015 and a member of Prince of Wales Country Club, in his hometown of Santiago, Chile, which was announced on Thursday as the host site of next year’s championship, from Jan. 18-21. “Now we live by the 14th hole. I just have to walk through the gate to get onto the course.”

Dominguez’s victory in 2015 was accomplished at Pilar Golf outside Buenos Aires, where he outdueled Alejandro Tosti to win by one stroke, a win that resonated with Joaquin Niemann, a fellow Chilean who finished third in the 2016 LAAC at Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic.

“He’s a great player and a great person,” said Niemann, 18, who at No. 5 is the top player in the World Amateur Golf Ranking™ in this year’s championship at Club de Golf de Panama. “We have traveled together many times. I believe that what he did to win the first Latin America championship, under all that pressure against a player from Argentina, was very good.”

Dominguez saw first-hand what a boost his victory gave not just to golf, but to his country as a whole.

“It was something unimaginable for me,” said Dominguez, a 2015 graduate of Texas Tech University who has remained an amateur and is No. 34 in the world. “All the people who approached me, people who don’t even play golf, told me they were watching, talking about it, following our results. That tells you something.”

Dominguez, who with his victory became just the second player from Chile to compete in the Masters Tournament after Enrique Orellana in 1964, shook his head as he contemplated the 2018 championship.

“That was in Argentina when I won,” he said. “Just imagine if that were to happen in Chile. It would be two or three times as big.”

Dominguez points not just to himself, Niemann and Claudio Correa, 21, who is No. 41 in the WAGR, when discussing the future of the game in his country. Niemann plans to join Correa, who is a junior at the University of South Florida, at the Tampa school in the fall.

“A lot of guys, Joaquin being one of them, are playing unbelievable golf,” said Dominguez. “People feel like we could have someone in the Masters again. But the guys we see right now were already into this. I think in five years we will see a lot more kids coming up as a result of the Latin America Amateur.”

Dominguez was tied for sixth place after two rounds of the 2016 LAAC, but faded in his title defense and finished in tie for 30th. He is back this year, and is already relishing next year’s “home game,” when he will have a chance to walk out his back gate and just maybe, step into history as the first player to win the LAAC in his native country.

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

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