A Q&A with 2024 LAAC Champion Santiago De la Fuente

By Adrian Godoy, USGA Staff

| Jun 10, 2024 | Village of Pinehurst, N.C.

A Q&A with 2024 LAAC Champion Santiago De la Fuente

This past January, Mexico's Santiago De la Fuente won the annual Latin American Amateur Championship, conducted at Santa Maria Golf Club in Panama City, Panama. Because of his victory, De la Fuente is exempt into the 2024 U.S. Open, the 2024 U.S. Amateur, any other 2024 USGA amateur championships for which he is eligible, the 2024 Open Championship and the 2024 Masters Tournament, where he missed the cut. We sat down with him ahead of his appearance at the 124th U.S. Open at Pinehurst Resort & C.C. (Course No. 2) for a Q&A.

Adrian Godoy: How did the LAAC victory change your life? 
Santiago De la Fuente: I just think it opened a lot of doors for me. Being able to play three majors is something that even professionals dream of. For me, winning changed everything for the better – I was able to form a better team and also learn more about myself and my game.

Godoy: What comes to mind when you think about playing the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2?
De la Fuente: It’s an amazing opportunity, especially as an amateur. I think a good result is great when you’re a professional, but it’s even better if you do it as an amateur. So I think just having this opportunity right before I turn professional is a privilege. My goal this week is just to take advantage of it as much as possible.

Godoy: What other golfers do you consider idols? Do you have any plans to practice with any?
De la Fuente: I actually don’t have many plans to play with anyone in particular. I just signed up for the practice times that worked best with my schedule. In terms of idols, anybody that’s currently in the world of professional golf is an idol to me. The world of a professional golfer is complicated and there’s a lot of obstacles. So anybody that’s going through it is an idol to me.

Santiago De la Fuente swing

Mexico's Santiago De la Fuente is gearing up for Pinehurst and his first U.S. Open start. (Credit: Latin American Amateur Championship)

Godoy: Are there any Latin American players in particular that you’ve spoken to or that have given you any advice?
De la Fuente: I talk to Alvaro [Ortiz] more than any other play. But no, everything that the Latin American players are doing right no – Emiliano Grillo, Camilo Villegas, Nicolas Echavarria, the LIV guys, Carlos Ortiz and Abraham Ancer – I think Latin American golf is growing a lot right now, and they’re all setting great examples.

Godoy: What do you know about Pinehurst?
De la Fuente: I know that it’s the cradle of American golf. There’s a ton of golf out here, a lot of golf courses, and they’re all spectacular.

Godoy: In your opinion, how has the LAAC grown the game in the region? How have you seen the growth of golf, personally, in Latin America thanks to the LAAC?
De la Fuente: I think what they’re doing is absolutely amazing, especially the championship itself. The LAAC is a catapult for everyone that plays in it, and what’s really clear is how much effort the federations are putting in to make sure their players arrive to the event as prepared as possible and with a good chance at winning it for their country.

Godoy: You also saw that Omar Morales, the LAAC runner-up, qualified. What did you think?
De la Fuente: Yeah, I was watching when he made that putt to get in and I sent him a text. He answered me and we planned our practice round together.

Godoy: How was the practice round?  
De la Fuente: It was great. We played on Saturday and it went really well. We talked a lot, laughed a lot with him and his caddie, who’s his brother, Yamil. It was a really good day.