Top moments in PGA TOUR Latinoamérica history
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Written by Germán Rozo @PGATOURLA
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Florida—After 11 years and 161 tournaments across primarily Latin America but also in the Caribbean and the United States, PGA TOUR Latinoamérica will merge with PGA TOUR Canada in 2024 to create PGA TOUR Americas. The new Tour will kick off in February and run until September. The top-10 players from PGA TOUR Americas’ points list will earn status on the following year’s Korn Ferry Tour season.
PGA TOUR Latinoamérica bids farewell with a long list of accomplishments, especially in promoting players to the next level in their careers. One-hundred-seventy-nine players achieved some form of Korn Ferry Tour status since 2012, including 50 Latin American players. Forty alums made it all the way to the PGA TOUR. In total, nine lifted Korn Ferry Tour tournament trophies.
Below, we present 10 key moments from the 11 years of PGA TOUR Latinoamérica.
It all began in Mérida
At just age 21, Tommy Cocha became the first winner on PGA TOUR Latinoamérica by prevailing at the Mundo Maya Open, an event held in early September 2012 at the Yucatán Country Club in Mérida, Mexico. The Argentine carded a final-round 68, finishing at 22-under-par, surpassing Mexican Oscar Fraustro by five strokes.
“I’m very happy, truly. I’m very pleased with this moment. All the training finally paid off. It was a week where I thought winning would require 12-under-par, so achieving 22-under-par definitely exceeded my expectations,” said Cocha, who made 27 birdies and just five bogeys throughout the week.
The first season of PGA TOUR Latinoamérica featured 11 tournaments across seven countries. The schedule began with two consecutive events in Mexico and concluded with the Argentine Open in December. Additionally, the inaugural Tour members had the opportunity to compete in Colombia, Brazil, Peru, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.
Guatemala, an unforgettable place
For five consecutive years, PGA TOUR Latinoamérica visited the stunning Fuego Maya Golf Club at La Reunión Golf Resort, and players still recall the breathtaking views of the Fuego volcano from various points on the property.
The event in Guatemala became a part of the Tour’s history for several reasons. In 2018, Ben Polland, who entered the field as a Monday Qualifier medalist, secured the champion’s trophy. Polland, a 26-year-old American from the U.S., finished at 20-under par to defeat Matt Gilchrest and Skyler Finnell by four strokes, setting a new 72-hole record at La Reunión.
Another pivotal moment in Tour history also occurred Guatemala, a year before Polland’s victory. Windy conditions throughout the week led Tour officials to, for the first and only time in Tour history, reduce the tournament to an unofficial, 18-hole event. Based to PGA TOUR regulations, the Tour distributed half of the prize purse evenly among the 139 professionals in the field. Because it was an unofficial event with no declared champion, that money did not count toward the Order of Merit.
Only a few months after Polland’s 2018 victory, the Fuego volcano erupted, the natural disaster not only devastating a significant portion of La Reunión Golf Resort but also impacted the neighboring municipalities of Escuintla, Alotenango and San Pedro Yepocapa. More than 300 people lost their lives, and thousands had to be evacuated to temporary shelters. Geologists classified the eruption as the volcano’s largest since 1974.
A direct ticket to the Open Championship
Beginning with the 2016 season, Argentine Ope, in conjunction with the R&A, added a special prize to its champion. In addition to claiming the trophy of one of the world’s oldest tournaments, the Argentine Open champion received an invitation to play in The Open Championship. The first to earn an exemption for golf’s oldest and most historic tournament was American Kent Bulle, who triumphed in a playoff against James Beck III and current PGA TOUR member Nate Lashley.
In addition to Bulle, the other champions of the Argentine Oopen who had the opportunity to play in The Open Championship were Brady Schnell, Isidro Benítez, Ricardo Celia, Jorge Fernández Valdés, and Zack Fischer, the latter the only one to make the cut. With rounds of 71-73-75-78, Fischer, winner of the 2022 Argentine Open, finished in 76th place on the leaderboard in the 2023 edition held at Royal Liverpool.
After a successful run as a key tournament on the PGA TOUR Latinoamérica schedule, the Argentine Open will join the official 2024 Korn Ferry Tour schedule. Alongside Panama, Colombia and Chile, Argentina will become the fourth country in the region the American circuit will visit next season. Apart from competing for an exemption into The Open Championship, the Argentine Open field will contend for a U.S. $1 million prize purse.
The Tour hits the century mark
With 35 total tournaments in the country, PGA TOUR Latinoamérica players visited Argentina more than any other during the Tour’s 11 years. In addition to annual visits to the country as a key market for the Tour's development, the Tour reached a historic milestone in early 2018. The Molino Cañuelas Championship marked the 100th event since the Tour's founding. The competition, featuring 144 players from 17 countries, was the fourth of that season. Several weather-related suspensions throughout the week led to the tournament's conclusion on Monday morning. The title went to local player Tommy Baik, who triumphed over American Matt Gilchrest in a three-hole playoff. A routine par on the third extra hole secured Baik his first and only PGA TOUR Latinoamérica victory.
Match-play in Mexico
In the middle of the 2018 season, PGA TOUR Latinoamérica hosted the Bupa Match Play, the first match-play event in its history. The tournament had a prize purse of U.S. $125,000 and featured a field open to the top-60 players on the Order of Merit prior to the start of the tournament. The Tour also invited four players who received invitations based on prior qualifications to compete in the single-elimination event outside Cancun. The champion that year was Toni Hakula, ranked No. 65. After winning his first five matches, the Finn defeated Argentine Sebastián Saavedra, 7 and 6, in the final. The triumph marked Hakula’s first of what became two victories on PGA TOUR Latinoamérica. In the second and final edition of the Bupa Match Play, Patrick Flavin cruised to the title. Flavin, a U.S. player currently playing on the Korn Ferry Tour, took home a 1-up victory over Brazilian Rodrigo Lee in the final.
A rivalry with PGA TOUR Canada
In late 2016, PGA TOUR Latinoamérica and PGA TOUR Canada competed a friendly competition, the Aruba Cup, pitting the top players from both circuits in a match-play format similar to what the Presidents Cup employs. The top-10 available players from each Tour’s Orders of Merit made up the teams, with the caveat that there would be at least five Canadians and five from Latin America on the respective teams. Over three days, the Tours faced off in four-ball, foursomes and singles matches.
After three editions, two in Aruba and one in Mexico, Team PGA TOUR Latinoamérica posted two victories against its PGA TOUR Canada counterpart. In the final edition, PGA TOUR Latinoamérica coasted to a 11.5-8.5 title over Team PGA TOUR Canada.
Nesbitt shoots 59 in Brazil
Canadian Drew Nesbitt made history on Saturday morning at the 2018 JHSF Brazil Open. Following a weather delay that pushed the second round into the weekend, Nesbitt became the first and only player to record sub-60 score in PGA TOUR Latinoamérica history. Nesbitt’s 59 came thanks to four eagles—one of those a hole-in-one—five birdies, one bogey and eight pars.
“Obviously, 59 is a magical number out here. But just to make the cut after what I shot [Thursday] is a great accomplishment. To do it with a 59 is even more special,” Nesbitt said at the time, beginning his tournament at Fazenda Boa Vista with an 8-over 79. His 20-stroke improvement between rounds also was, at the time, the best by a PGA TOUR Latinoamérica player.
Nesbitt began his second round Friday afternoon, and before a suspension due to darkness, he had registered two consecutive eagles, a bogey, and four pars. Upon returning to the course early Saturday morning, Nesbitt recorded another eagle, this time on the par-5 18th, to make the turn at 5-under par.
His final nine holes were a dream: five birdies, three of them in consecutive fashion, and a hole-in-one on the par-3 second hole, his 11th of the day. With 159 yards to the pin, the Canadian put his 9-iron tee shot in the hole, giving him another achievement he would never forget.
COVID-19 pandemic, a global challenge
In March 2020, the world faced one of its greatest challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic seemingly paralyzed everything, including golf. PGA TOUR Latinoamérica had played its first event of the season in Mazatlán, Mexico, the season off to a great start when it stopped play for 277 days before resuming a reduced schedule that eventually featured eight events. The 2020-21 season began in March 2020 at Estrella del Mar Resort and concluded in late July 2021 at PGA Riviera Maya, also in Mexico, with the Bupa Championship. Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, PGA TOUR Latinoamérica was the only one of the PGA TOUR’s three International Tours (those in China and Canada, the others) to successfully complete its season.
Rodríguez won and won often
José de Jesús Rodríguez had a knack for winning. The Jalisco Open Guadalajara provided the ideal stage to once give Rodríguez a stage to show off his world-class talent. His two tournament starts in Jalisco resulted in two more PGA TOUR Latinoamérica titles for the experienced 42-year-old Mexico native. The latest of El Camarón’s victories at the Atlas Country Club just two months ago was special for several reasons. Not only did he successfully defend his 2022 tournament title, he did so without making a single bogey throughout the week. The victory was also Rodríguez's sixth on PGA TOUR Latinoamérica. No one won more times on Tour. El Camarón surpassed compatriot Rodolfo Cazaubón, Argentinians Julián Etulain, Jorge Fernández Valdés and Tommy Cocha, the United States’ Michael Buttacavoli and Chilean Cristóbal del Solar on the list of most-successful winners. They all won four titles.
During his time on PGA TOUR Latinoamérica, Rodríguez played in 56 tournaments and made the cut in 46. In addition to his consecutive victories in Guadalajara, the Mexican secured two wins in 2017—at the Avianca Colombia Open and the Paraguay Open-Cup NEC and two wins in 2013, at the Arturo Calle Colombian Classic presented by Avianca and the Roberto De Vicenzo Invitational Cup NEC.
Blanchet, the last champion
The Bupa Tour Championship marked the end of PGA TOUR Latinoamérica, and as expected, it was filled with excitement and a bit of nostalgia. PGA Riviera Maya in Tulum, Mexico, once again hosted the season-ending event.
There were so many storylines for the season-ender, but it was Chandler Blanchet who managed to stand out among the rest of the field. The U.S. player, visiting Tulum Country Club for the first time, finished his 72 holes at 6-under, leaving him tied at the end of regulation with fellow U.S. player Justin Doeden and France’s Jeremy Gandon.
In the playoff, all three carded pars on the first extra hole. In the overtime session’s second hole, Blanchet and Gandon made birdies, while Doeden dropped out after making par. On playoff hole No. 3, Blanchet captured the win, making a two-putt par as Gandon bogeyed.
Blanchet’s Bupa Tour Championship victory was his second of the season and third in 28 PGA TOUR Latinoamérica appearances. In late-March, the Florida native triumphed in the Roberto De Vicenzo Memorial 100 Years in Argentina. On his last stroke of the tournament, Blanchet holed out from 124 yards to cement his victory, a three-stroke win over Argentina’s Leandro Marelli at Maestro De Vicenzo’s home course, Ranelagh Golf Club, as it celebrated what would have been the World Golf Hall of Famer’s 100th birthday.
Blanchet’s victories in Argentina and Mexico, the latter earning him 600 points for the Totalplay Cup, crowned him as Player of the Year, an accolade that will grant him full exemption for the 2024 Korn Ferry Tour season, a circuit he played in 2020 and 2022.
In his career, Blanchet won three times on PGA TOUR Latinoamérica. His first title came at the 2019 São Paulo Golf Championship in Brazil, where he had to battle during the final nine holes with current PGA TOUR member Augusto Núñez. Blanchet made birdies on the 16th and 17th holes to ultimately finish at 18-under, edging Núñez by one stroke and Eric Steger and Evan Harmeling by four shots.