Another amateur – not Nick Dunlap – just punched his ticket to Augusta

Santiago de la Fuente competing in the Mexico Open

Santiago de la Fuente is the second golfer from Mexico to win the Latin American Amateur Championship

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Nick Dunlap was not the only amateur golfer to make news this weekend.

On Sunday, as the headline-grabbing Dunlap sought to keep up his sensational play against the pros in the American Express, in La Quinta, Santiago de la Fuente of Mexico grabbed the spotlight on another big stage, firing a final round 6-under 64 to win the Latin American Amateur Championship, at Santa Maria Golf Club, in Panama City.

With his 8-under total, two shots clear of countryman Omar Morales, de la Fuente punched his ticket to three of this year’s four majors, starting with the Masters, in April. The 22-year-old has also earned a spot into the U.S. Open, at Pinehurst, and the Open Championship, at Royal Troon, and now enjoys exemptions into both the U.S. Amateur and the Amateur championships. 

“Not a bad summer, right?” de la Fuente said of his upcoming schedule.

On a blustery day in Panama, de la Fuente started his final round three shots back of Morales, who had seized the lead on Saturday with what was then a tournament-low 65. It didn’t take long to narrow the gap. On the par-5 second hole, a birdie by de la Fuente to Morales’ bogey trimmed the lead to one, setting up a back nine that essentially boiled down to match-play between two young men who have been competing against each other since they were kids.

“I definitely knew this wasn’t going to be easy,” said de la Fuente, a junior at the University of Houston. “I’ve known Omar since we were nine years old and I know how good of a player he is, so if I was going to win I was going to have to battle to the last hole.”

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It was not the first time de la Fuente had battled down the stretch in this event. At the 2022 Latin American Amateur Championship, at Casa de Campo, in the Dominican Republic, de la Fuente had the title within his grasp before lipping out a short birdie putt on the final hole to lose by one to Aaron Jarvis of the Cayman Islands. 

This time around, he did the opposite of stumble. Tied with Morales with two holes to play, de la Fuente finished birdie-birdie, stuffing his tee shot on the par-3 17th to 18 inches to grab the lead by one, and then sealing the deal with an icy putt on the par-4 18th after Morales’ own birdie bid had come up short.

When his final putt dropped, de la Fuente gave a fist-pump, embraced his caddie and then sunk to his knees and wept.

“I don’t think there has been any better moment in my life so far,” he said. “I’m very happy. The work I have done to get ready for this week during a couple months, after what happened in the Dominican Republic. And just trying to win this tournament. And right now, I can say I did it.”

Josh Sens Editor

A golf, food and travel writer, Josh Sens has been a GOLF Magazine contributor since 2004 and now contributes across all of GOLF’s platforms. His work has been anthologized in The Best American Sportswriting. He is also the co-author, with Sammy Hagar, of Are We Having Any Fun Yet: the Cooking and Partying Handbook.