If you’re going to win the Latin America Amateur Championship this week at Mexico’s Mayakoba Resort—and earn exemptions into the Masters and Open Championship—you’re going to have to be a patience golfer. Howling winds greeted the field at El Camaleón Golf Club on Thursday and are expected to linger through the weekend, creating a difficult test for the 108 players competing in the sixth edition of the event.
To wit: Just three golfers broke par during Thursday’s opening round. Colombia’s Ivan Camilo Ramirez made two bogeys in his first three holes, then carded five birdies over his next seven holes en route to a three-under 68 and a two-stroke lead over Chile’s Gabriel Morgan Birke and Lukas Roessler.
Ramirez, 22, finished his senior season at Texas Tech last spring and is currently No. 74 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, the second highest among those in Mexico. This is his fifth appearance in the LAAC, with his best previous showing being a ninth-place finish last year.
During his post-round interview, Ramirez was quick to credit his putter for his impressive score. “I didn't start very good, and then all the birdies I had were pretty fair, long putts,” said Ramirez, including a 12 footer on the fifth hole and a 15-footer on the seventh.. “The putts for par, too, were clutch I think. No. 12 was like an eight , nine footer. 13 was four feet. 14 was another four feet. So I think the putter kept me in the round.”
Ramirez had an impressive college career with the Red Raiders, recording a 71.3 stroke average his senior year. As a junior in 2018, he finished fourth at the NCAA Championship, the best individual performance in Texas Tech history. It was one of 14 top-10 finishes in his career.
Texas Tech golfers have a history of solid performances in the LAAC. Matias Dominguez was a Red Raider senior the year he won the inaugural title in 2015.
If Ramirez wasn’t a surprise atop the leader board, then neither was Birke, who came into the tournament as the highest ranked amateur in the field at No. 52. Birdies on his final two holes gave him his one-under 70.
“What surprises me most is that the tournament here, when it’s played on the PGA Tour, they win with scores of 22 under par,” Birke said. “I have no idea how they could accomplish that.”
Roessler, meanwhile, is one of the youngest players in the field at just 15. But he’s familiar with the tournament as he’s the younger brother of 2017 champion Toto Gana.