Birthday boy Abel Gallegos right at home on Latin America swing
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GREAT EXUMA ISLAND, BAHAMAS - JANUARY 18: Abel Gallegos of Argentina plays his shot on the 3rd tee during the fourth round of The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay Golf Club on January 18, 2023 in Great Exuma Island, Bahamas. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
Korn Ferry Tour rookie celebrates 21st birthday at The Panama Championship
Written by Gregory Villalobos @PGATOURAmericas
PANAMA CITY, Panama – Abel Gallegos skyrocketed onto the Latin American golf scene as the surprising 17-year-old winner of the 2020 Latin America Amateur Championship. As the first Argentine to win the event, he earned exemptions into the 2020 Masters Tournament and the 2021 Open Championship. Suddenly he wasn’t just an intriguing prospect; there were expectations.
Gallegos has progressed to earn 2023 Korn Ferry Tour membership, but it wasn’t without a learning curve.
“Winning the LAAC in my first start was something that caught me by surprise,” recalls Gallegos, who turned 21 on Thursday at The Panama Championship, the third event of his rookie Korn Ferry Tour season. “I was just another player, and all of a sudden, I was the first Argentine to win the LAAC, earning spots in two major championships. It was one of the best things ever to happen to me, but at the same time, it pushed me into taking a lot of decisions I wasn’t ready to take.”
The COVID-19 pandemic began soon after his LAAC win, pushing his dream Masters start to November, while his appearance at The Open was delayed to July 2021. Having already decided to forgo college, Gallegos joined PGA TOUR Latinoamérica, where he made his highly anticipated professional debut in March 2022.
Making only three cuts in seven starts, with a tie for 43rd as his best finish, Gallegos couldn’t get anything going in his first few months as a professional golfer.
“At the top of my game as an amateur, I felt I could win any tournament,” Gallegos said. “Turning pro, it was difficult to adjust to PGA TOUR Latinoamérica because I didn’t feel as strong as I felt as an amateur.”
His confidence was restored while advancing through all three stages of the 2022 Korn Ferry Tour Qualifying Tournament. Just as he did when he won the LAAC, once again he managed to surprise himself. A tie for 17th at Final Stage earned him guaranteed starts for the first eight events of the 2023 season.
“I’m happy to be here. I feel that I belong,” said Gallegos, who finished T40 in his Korn Ferry Tour debut at the season-opening The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay. “Golf-wise I know I have what it takes to be here, so I guess it’s not too early to think about making it all the way to the PGA TOUR.”
With his English-speaking capabilities still in the works, the young Argentine is more than happy to be playing three of the next four Korn Ferry Tour events in Latin America. Aside from the comfort of speaking the native language, playing in Panama, Colombia and Chile provides a special reward. The Korn Ferry Tour announced Tuesday that the Latin American player who earns the most points across the three-event Latin America swing (Panama, Colombia, Chile) will receive an exemption for the PGA TOUR’s Mexico Open at Vidanta. The tournament will be played in Vallarta, Mexico, April 27-30.
“This exemption is another incentive for us to try our best over these three events in Latin America,” Gallegos said. “It would be great to be there and have another opportunity to make a PGA TOUR start. When I made my two major starts, I was unable to play my best golf because of the environment surrounding it. I felt like I was at Disney, and that made it hard to focus on just playing golf. I’m eager to play another event on the PGA TOUR now that I’m a pro.”
The race for the Mexico Open at Vidanta exemption features this week’s Panama Championship, next week’s Astara Golf Championship presented by Mastercard and the Astara Chile Classic, scheduled for March 27 – April 2.