For the second time in less than a month, Argentina sings “Dale campeon!” Or in English “Let’s go, champion!”
First, it was for Lionel Messi and company after they won the World Cup in Qatar.
Sunday it was for Mateo Fernandez de Oliveira, who had his own master class to win the Latin American Amateur Championship in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico.
A native of Buenos Aires who is a day under 23 years old.rd birthday, set a record 23 in a week from 5 under 67, passing Mexican Luis Carrera by four shots to become Argentina’s second LAAC champion after Abel Gallegos in 2020. The Arkansas senior, serving in his fifth LAAC, is also the third player in LAAC history to finish second the year before, joining Chile’s Joaquín Niemann in 2018 and Mexico’s Alvaro Ortiz, a former Razorback who was runner-up twice before win in 2019.
However, unlike any of the previous champions, Fernandez de Oliveira can look forward to three starts in major championships with his victory, as the US Open joined the Masters and The Open this year by sending an invitation to the winner of LAAC.
“I’m still in shock,” said Fernandez de Oliveira. “I think my life has changed.”
Fernandez de Oliveira was one of the favorites to start the week at the Grand Reserve Golf Club. At number 34 in the world amateur golf rankings, only the Brazilian Fred Biondi ranked higher. After Fernández de Oliveira opened at 68–67 to win back one shot from Carrera in the third round, 9 under 63, equaling Niemann’s championship record.
And at 18 fewer through 54 holes, also a record, the humble Argentine, up four, looked on cruise control.
“It was easy until I went to bed last night,” said Fernandez de Oliveira, who woke up at 4:40 a.m. Sunday and struggled to get back to sleep.
At breakfast, Fernandez de Oliveira ate with the camera in front of his face.
“Today I felt like I was living in a reality show,” he added.
Despite the nerves, Fernandez de Oliveira relied on his talent, especially his world-class short game. His only scare of the final round came early on the third hole, but even with Carrera’s charge – he played the first 11 holes in 6 under – Fernandez de Oliveira never let his opponent go two shots.
“I was throwing some really good shots too, starting with nine backs, and he was hitting and dropping and hitting from everywhere,” Carrera said, “and I felt like I was playing very solidly and I was just, like, hitting like I didn’t get very close to him. I mean, I got, I think, about two shots next to him, but I didn’t get much closer.”
Fernández de Oliveira added: “I just played around thinking it was never made.”
Fernández de Oliveira was even ahead of his opponents on the game, hitting from the tee from time to time, while Carrera and his compatriot Vincente Marzilio were still on the previous green.
“We were behind all day, so we needed to speed up,” said Fernandez de Oliveira. “I just tried to take my time when I did it. That’s why when I approached the ball, I tried to take a sip of water, just to stay in my rhythm.
After scoring his sixth parity in a row at No. 18, Fernández de Oliveira completed a decisive victory, he got more than a sip. He was showered with water bottles by other members of the Argentina national team, including his Arkansas teammates Segundo Oliva Pinto and Manuel Lozada.
Later, when Fernández de Oliveira scored, they all serenaded their champion.
Eight years ago, Fernandez de Oliveira was a 15-year-old volunteer at the first LAAC in Buenos Aires. He remembers following compatriot Alejandro Tosti and watching Tosti’s bid for the title fall short of winner Matias Dominguez of Chile.
“It’s been a long time [since then]”, – said Fernandez de Oliveira. – I went through a lot … the process was very long, but I think that my 15-year-old [self]young lad, would be proud.”
He wasn’t the only one.
Come on champion!