LA ROMANA, Dominican Republic — When No. 1-ranked Joaquin Niemann won the Latin America Amateur Championship a year ago, it was the first time a player inside the top 50 on the World Amateur Golf Ranking had claimed the title. Or inside the top 100. Or inside the top 250.
Actually, prior to Niemann the highest ranked player to win the LAAC title was Chile’s Toto Gana, who was No. 285 when he beat Niemann (his countryman and best friend) and Alvaro Ortiz of Mexico in a playoff in 2017. Previous winners Matias Dominguez in 2015 and Paul Chaplet in 2016 were 412th and 832nd, respectively, when they claimed their titles.
Long story short, you don’t have to be a teen prodigy with a monster resume to win the event. With that in mind, here are seven players, listed in the order they fall on the WAGR, to keep your eye on this week at Casa de Campo.
Luis Fernando Barco, Peru
World Ranking: 24
Barco finished his college career at Purdue in 2017, but has seen his spot in the World Amateur Golf Ranking rise from No. 156 at this event last year to inside the top 25 thanks to wins at the 2018 Mexican and Peruvian Amateur. In his three previous LAAC starts he’s finished T-3 at Casa de Campo in 2016, T-22 in 2017 and T-23 in 2018.
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Luis Gagne, Costa Rica
World Ranking: 37
A senior at LSU, Gagne is playing in the LAAC for the first time, but he’s no stranger to big-time golf. The 21-year-old qualified for last year’s U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills, where he shared low-amateur honors with a T-48 finish.
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Julian Perico, Peru
World Ranking: 87
Two years ago in Panama, Perico finished T-4, one stroke out of the playoff with Gana, Niemann and Ortiz. He began his college golf career at Arkansas last fall and proceeded to take medalist honors at the Jerry Pate Intercollegiate with a school-record 54-hole score of 197.
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Alvaro Ortiz, Mexico
World Ranking: 119
The 23-year-old, who plans to turn pro after this event unless he wins, has the best record in the LAAC of any player not to have won the title. His previous finishes include T-3 in 2015 and runner-up showings in 2017 and 2018 (he was DQ’d in 2016 at Casa de Campo). Ortiz finished his college career at Arkansas last spring, leading the team in scoring average his junior and senior years. His older brother, Carlos, earned a PGA Tour card in 2014 after winning three times on the Web.com Tour.
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Toto Gana, Chile
World Ranking: 173
Gana is one of three past champions in the field this week, and backed up the victory with a respectable T-7 finish in the LAAC last year. A junior at Lynn University, Gana had three top-10 college finishes last fall, including a victory at the NCAA D-II Preview.
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Jorge Garcia, Venezuela
World Ranking: 180
The 22-year-old, a senior at Barry University, has had three top-10 finishes in four starts in the LAAC, including a runner-up at Casa de Campo in 2016. Garcia was an accomplished junior golfer who was twice an AJGA first-team All-American and a past winner of the South American Junior. He has represented his country three times in the World Amateur Team Championship.
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Ivan Camilo Ramirez, Colombia
World Ranking: 224
The Texas Tech senior finished fourth at the NCAA Championship last spring, the best individual finish of any player in school history. He won 15 titles in various junior tournaments in South America and has played in the four previous editions of the LAAC, his best showing a T-6 at Casa de Campo in 2016.