Barbados players James Johnson and Scott Stollmeyer are among 110 players from the hemisphere teeing off Thursday morning in the 2017 Latin America Amateur Golf Championship (LAAC) in Panama.
The major championship, where the winner will be invited to play in the 2017 Masters, runs from January 12-15 and is being played at the Panama Golf Club, just outside Panama City.
Golfers from 27 countries in the Caribbean and Latin America are seeking to make the cut over the first 36 holes, in the third edition of the 72-hole stroke-play championship, where players qualified to compete based on their international amateur rankings.
Johnson, the current Barbados captain who finished among the top 25 last year, is contesting the tournament for the third time and said he was looking to make the cut again in Panama. “It is a tough tournament with the best players in the region and the first task is to make the cut. You have to make the cut to have a chance to move on,” said Johnson.
Both Johnson and Stollmeyer completed practice rounds yesterday and today and Stollmeyer, who said he too was seeking to be among the top 50 at the weekend, described the tournament as a great experience and the course as a challenging par 70 with relatively small greens.
“It is a great experience and all the players are good players. There is a real possibility that one of the players in this tournament could be the next golf phenom and I hope to see more Barbadian representation in the coming years”, he added.
Most Caribbean players are ranked outside of the top 1000 and among other regional golfers competing in the LAAC in Panama are: Talin Rajendranath, Sachin Kumar, Liam Bryden and Matthew Marquez of Trinidad and Tobago; Puerto Ricans Erick Juan Morales and Jeronimo Esteve; Steven Kemp and Devaughn Robinson of the Bahamas; Kevin O’Connell and Trevor Levine of the US Virgin Islands and Jamaicans Jonathan Newnham and Ian Facey .
“This tournament is a major one for regional golfers and we are proud that Barbados is again being represented in such an event which provides an opportunity for exposure to a higher level of competition. Players are able to qualify based on their rankings and I believe this kind of tournament will give our young Barbados players something to aim for and more incentive to work on their games,” said Barbados Golf Association secretary, Trenton Weekes.
Last year’s LAAC champion, 17-year-old Paul Chaplet of Costa Rica, who won the second tournament in the Dominican Republic, and Matias Dominguez of Chile, who won the inaugural LAAC in Argentina in 2015, are among those competing again this week where the highest ranked player in the World Amateur Golf Rankings is Uruguay’s Juan Alvarez at No. 36.
A cut will be instituted after the first 36 holes, which means that the top 50 players will advance to the championship rounds on Saturday and Sunday.
There are major incentives to win the LAAC tournament, based on prizes extended by The Masters Tournament, The Royal & Ancient Golf Club and the USGA. Along with being able to play in the 2017 Masters Tournament, the winner and runner-up will receive exemptions into The Open Qualifying Series for The 146th British Open and into sectional qualifying for the 2017 U.S. Open Championship.
Additionally, the champion will receive full exemption into The Amateur Championship in 2017, the 2017 U.S. Amateur Championship and any other USGA amateur championship for which he is eligible.