Masters invitation awaits for Abel Gallegos, Argentina's first Latin America Amateur champion
The Latin America Amateur Championship has provided a solid metric for golf’s growth in this particular region. An initiative that began in Argentina six years ago finally has an Argentinian winner. Abel Gallegos, a 17-year-old who learned the game on a small nine-hole course just outside Buenos Aires, in the town of Veinticinco de Mayo, calmly claimed his country’s first title in the event. He secured a long list of coveted playing opportunities in the process.
Gallegos used a final-round 67 at Mayakoba’s El Camaleon Golf Club in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, to climb back from 2 down at the start of Sunday’s fourth and final round. Birdies at Nos. 3, 5 and 7 helped him step into the lead and he never relinquished it. He finished at 4 under and four ahead of runner-up Aaron Terrazas of Mexico.
Gallegos becomes the first of six LAAC winners to hail from Argentina, where Pilar Golf in Buenos Aires hosted the inaugural championship in 2015.
“It’s an incredible moment,” he said through a translator at the start of the awards ceremony at Mayakoba. “I dedicate this win to all of Argentina, they’re always backing me. And it’s just for them.”
Gallegos was a first-time participant in this year’s LAAC and was one of eight players from Argentina in the field. Five of his compatriots joined him inside the top 20. There wasn’t pressure on the group of them to win so much as Gallegos felt a bit of pressure on himself the night before the final round.
“Last night when I put my head on the pillow, I had all kinds of thoughts going through my head,” he said. “I woke up several times throughout the night. I was nervous and then finally when I had some sleep and I woke up this morning, I stood up, I looked at myself in the mirror and I said, ‘You can do this. Let’s do this.’”
It takes a village, as they say, and in that regard, Gallegos owes much to the local golf pro who literally dropped a golf club in his lap as a child.
“I don’t remember what club it was, but I lived one block away from the golf course so I had an idea what the club was for,” Gallegos said.
It sparked a fire for a game he had otherwise been unfamiliar with. Residents of Veinticinco de Mayo, like much of Latin America, love their soccer.
Gallegos earns the traditional Masters invitation reserved for the winner of the LAAC and also becomes the event’s first champion to receive an invitation to the British Open. Invitations to the British Amateur and U.S. Amateur, along with a pass to U.S. Open sectional qualifying, are also on the table.
The Masters invite, however, is the one that sparkles.
“It’s incredible, I think I’m in a dream,” Gallegos said. “Right now I have to enjoy and be part of it with my family.”
With this LAAC win, Gallegos adds his name to the greats of Argentinian golf, a list that Angel Cabrera arguably tops. At the very least, Cabrera, the 2009 Masters champion, leads that list in Gallegos’ mind.
Watching on TV as Cabrera claimed the green jacket is among Gallegos’ first Masters memory. Cabrera sent the young man a congratulatory text message on Sunday.
“I just to have been thankful to him because he’s a hero back home and having him congratulate me is everything and I feel proud about it,” Gallegos said.
Ideally, Gallegos will join Cabrera on the professional stage sooner rather than later. There is no specific timeline, but Gallegos has said he will turn professional instead of attend college in the United States, a path many of the players in the LAAC field have taken. Gallegos was not confident in his ability to speak English, which contributed to his thought that he might not be ready to pursue college golf in the U.S.
“I think it’s going to be a matter of when I think that I’m mentally ready and I have the capacity and I’m well-trained,” he said.
What he did at Mayakoba should go a long way.