Santiago De la Fuente booked his spot in the 124th U.S. Open at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club’s Course No. 2 this June by becoming the second Mexican to claim the Latin America Amateur Championship on Jan. 21. De La Fuente edged compatriot and 54-hole leader Omar Morales at Santa Maria Golf Club.
Starting the day three shots behind Morales, De la Fuente, a senior at the University of Houston, produced an excellent 6-under-par 64 in blustery conditions to lift the Latin America Amateur trophy. Not only did the victory earn him a spot in the U.S. Open, but also an invitation to the Masters in April and The Open Championship at Royal Troon in July. The No. 87 player in the World Amateur Golf Ranking®/WAGR also earned an exemption into the 124th U.S. Amateur to be conducted at Hazeltine National Golf Club in August.
De la Fuente finished with a 10-under total of 270, two shots clear of Morales with their nearest rivals Mateo Fuenmayor of Colombia and Justin Hastings from the Cayman Islands finishing in third and fourth at 3 under and 2 under, respectively.
Morales started the day in pole position, but a two-shot swing occurred on the second when he bogeyed as De la Fuente made birdie. The pair each tallied three birdies and one bogey throughout the remainder of the front nine, with Morales holding on to his one-shot lead at the turn.
De la Fuente moved level with a birdie at the 11th just as Morales’ putter went cold, and he could only play par golf from there. The 22-year-old De la Fuente, who was runner-up in 2022, saved his best for last, stuffing his tee shot to tap-in range for a birdie on the par-3 17th and then holing a putt from 10 feet for a closing birdie to secure a remarkable two-shot win. He follows his “idol” Alvaro Ortiz who won at Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic in 2019.
An emotional De la Fuente said, “It's a very unreal feeling. Even though I've been preparing myself for the winning moment, the winning put, visualizing myself, chasing the guy that's winning, winning by five. I visualized every scenario possible. Still feels unreal and still feels I don't think there's even words to describe it.”
Morales, who double bogeyed the 18th in the third round after finding water, was the only player to shoot four sub-70 rounds and finished with an eight-under total of 272. The 2023 U.S. Open qualifier from UCLA will receive an exemption into the final stages of qualifying for the U.S. Open and The Open. Morales briefly led the 123rd U.S. Open at The Los Angeles Country Club where he had the honor of hitting the opening tee shot.
Morales said, “Overall, a good week. I gave it my all today. Not my best day, especially off the tee, which is weird. My driver is the best club, and just simply didn't hit it right. But if I can have off days and not play my best and still have a chance to win, then it means my game is in the right spot.”
Andrew Jarvis from the Cayman Islands, Carlos Ardila from Colombia and Andrey Xavier from Brazil finished tied for fifth at 3-over 283.