LATIN AMERICA AMATEUR
LAAC: Dominguez Sets High Goals, On and Off Course January 13, 2016 | La Romana, Dominican Republic By Ron Driscoll, USGA

Matias Dominguez, of Chile, took great pride in being the first Latin America Amateur champion. (Enrique Berardi/LAAC)

Full Coverage: Latin America Amateur Championship

In capturing the inaugural Latin America Amateur Championship last January, Matias Dominguez of Chile became just the second player from his home country to play in the Masters Tournament, joining Enrique Orellana (1964).

As he embarks Thursday on his title defense here on Casa de Campo’s Teeth of the Dog course, Dominguez, who rallied from a shaky start to card a 1-under-par 71, would relish the opportunity to repeat that cherished experience. But he also has loftier goals that will preclude him from pursuing a career in professional golf, at least for now.

“I’ve always wanted to do so many things in my life, and I realized that golf wouldn’t allow me to do some of those projects that I want to be involved in,” said Dominguez, 22, who graduated from Texas Tech University in December with a degree in general studies. “There are things that I am more passionate about that I need to do. Before I dedicate my life to becoming a better player, I want to become a better person.”

Dominguez was so inspired by a leadership program he became involved with on the Lubbock campus about 18 months ago that he is developing a similar program of his own.

“The class really changed the way I approach life and people,” said Dominguez. “It’s something you can adapt to education, schools and sports teams. It’s about building cohesion and taking advantage of opportunities and tools that we all need to become better leaders.”

Texas Tech golf coach Greg Sands touted both Dominguez’s maturity and the critical role he played last spring as team captain, helping the Red Raiders earn a berth in the NCAA Championship. Dominguez is hoping to provide a similar boost to golf in his home country.

“You start seeing the meaning of being the first Latin America Amateur champion when you stop seeing yourself as a hero,” said Dominguez. “You begin to understand that this is not really for the winner, it’s actually for all the people who come after that. I want to find ways to help the Chilean Golf Federation to increase golf in Chile. I’m always open to help in any way that I can.”

Dominguez has already given a lift to the game’s visibility there with his victory at Pilar Golf in Buenos Aires last January, when he outlasted Alejandro Tosti of Argentina by one stroke.

“When I got back to Chile [after winning], I found out that so many people who never watched golf in their life started watching because a Chilean was winning,” said Dominguez, a two-time competitor for Chile’s World Amateur Team who failed to qualify for match play in The Amateur Championship last June at Carnoustie and Panmure. “You can see benefits from this tournament everywhere you go, including players preparing and focusing their year around playing in this event.”

Although his trip to Augusta National last April ended with a missed cut, it also provided a cornucopia of memories.

“It’s hard to fit it all together, to find words to comprehend how it was,” said Dominguez. “There were so many things that happened personally, with my family and friends, as well as for Chile, to have a Chilean amateur be able to play in it.”

When pressed, Dominguez mentions a few highlights: receiving the official invitation in the mail; the hole-in-one he made during the Wednesday Par 3 Contest, with his girlfriend on the bag and family and friends watching; being made to feel at home by the Augusta National Golf Club membership as well as professional players, particularly Jordan Spieth, Zach Johnson and Jason Day; standing on the first tee and hearing the roars envelop the course from the 16th green. He won keepsake Masters crystal for his ace, for closest-to-the-hole honors on another par 3 on Wednesday, and for an eagle on No. 13 in Round 2. “The crystal is packed away,” he said.
 

“You start seeing the meaning of being the first Latin America Amateur champion when you stop seeing yourself as a hero.” -- Matias Dominguez


Dominguez also carefully studied those professional players.

“I noticed how calm they look, their tempo,” said Dominguez. “They walk at the same speed, do everything step by step, a lot of routine. Sometimes when you go to amateur events, you see people get really intense on and off the course. That was the main difference I saw.”

Dominguez is not closing the door on a possible pro career, nor is he in any rush to pursue one.

“When you’re in a tournament, like the Chile Classic or on other tours, you see their lives and see what it takes to get there,” said Dominguez. “Of course it’s a sacrifice. There are people who are meant to be in that life, and I think it’s a personal matter if you pursue that path or if you want to take a different one. I’ve learned from that and I’m still learning, still watching.”

This week, all eyes turn to Dominguez as defending champion.

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

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