For the second time in less than a month, Argentina sings “¡Dale champion!” Or in English, “Come on, champ!”
First, it was for Lionel Messi and company after they won the World Cup in Qatar.
On Sunday, it was for Mateo Fernández de Oliveira, who gave a masterclass of his own in capturing the Latin American Amateur Championship in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico.
The native of Buenos Aires, one day before his 23rd birthday, capped a record week of 23-under-par 67, five-under-par, to beat Mexican Luis Carrera by four shots and become Argentina’s second LAAC champion, after Abel Gallegos in 2020. The senior from Arkansas, who competing in his fifth LAAC, he is also the third player in LAAC history to win after finishing runner-up the year before, joining Joaquín Niemann of Chile in 2018 and Álvaro Ortiz of Mexico, a former Razorback who placed second twice before to win in 2019.
Unlike any of the previous champions, however, Fernández de Oliveira can count on three major championship starts thanks to his victory, as this year’s US Open joined the Masters and The Open in extending an invitation to the winner of the THE AC.
“I am still very shaken up,” Fernández de Oliveira said. “I think my life has changed.”
Fernández de Oliveira was among the favorites to start the week at Grand Reserve Golf Club. Ranked 34th in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, only Fred Biondi from Brazil ranked better. After opening at 68-67 to sit a stroke behind Carrera, Fernández de Oliveira converted in a third round, 9-under 63 to tie Niemann’s championship record.
And with 18 under par in 54 holes, also a record, the humble Argentine, four up, seemed to be on cruise control.
“It was easy until I went to bed last night,” said Fernández de Oliveira, who woke up at 4:40 a.m. Sunday and struggled to get back to sleep.
At breakfast, Fernández de Oliveira ate with a camera on his face.
“I felt that today I lived a reality show,” he added.
Despite the nerves, Fernández de Oliveira relied on his talent, especially his world-class short game. His only bogey of the final round came early, on the third hole, but even with Carrera charging (he played the first 11 holes at 6 under par), Fernández de Oliveira never left his opponent within two shots.
“I was also hitting some really good shots at the beginning of the back nine, and he was swinging from everywhere and putting,” Carrera said, “and I felt like he was playing very solid, and he was just, like, the shots. , like I wasn’t getting very close to him. I mean, I think I got two hits close to him, but I wasn’t getting very close.”
Fernández de Oliveira added: “I just played thinking that it was never done.”
Fernández de Oliveira even pulled ahead of his competitors down the stretch, hitting his tee shot on occasion while Carrera and fellow Argentine Vincente Marzilio were still on the front green.
“We were behind all day, so we needed to speed up,” Fernández de Oliveira said. “I just tried not to rush when I was doing that. So, that’s why when I was getting to the ball, I tried to take a sip of water, just to stay in my rhythm.”
After tapping a sixth straight pair at the No. 18 to wrap up a decisive victory, Fernández de Oliveira got more than a sip. He was showered with water bottles by other members of the Argentina national team, including Arkansas teammates Segundo Oliva Pinto and Manuel Lozada.
Later, once Fernández de Oliveira left the goal, everyone serenaded their champion.
Eight years ago, Fernández de Oliveira was a 15-year-old volunteer at the LAAC inauguration in Buenos Aires. He remembers following his compatriot Alejandro Tosti down the stretch and seeing how Tosti’s title bid fell short of the winner Matías Domínguez of Chile.
“It has been a long time [since then]”said Fernández de Oliveira. “I went through a lot… the process was very long, but I think my 15-year-old daughter [self]The boy would be proud.”
He was not the only one.
Let’s go champion!