The Latin American Amateur Championship contender who learned golf with a dad who shoots 120 and a pound by Tiger Woods

LA ROMANA, Dominican Republic — Santiago De la Fuente del Valle is a name that, as the 20-year-old Mexican aficionado puts it, sounds straight out of a telenovela. De la Fuente’s story, too, appears to have been assembled by a room of writers. It all starts in a town in Mexico where the main industry is furniture manufacturing and the family business manufactures furniture packaging. This is a book about Tiger Woods, an abandoned golf course, and a hint of Canelo Alvarez.

In round two of the Latin American Amateur Championship on Friday at Casa de Campo’s Teeth of the Dog course, De la Fuente was thrust into the spotlight after shooting 5-under 67 – the second-best run in the day – to move from even to 5 under and a tie for third heading into the weekend. He sits 4 behind leader Julian Perico.

“Am I looking at the camera or you? he asked a reporter, as another cameraman motioned for him to move to his left. “I feel like I’m in school.”

With a bid for the Masters and the Open to the winner this week, De la Fuente could become the second Mexican to win the tournament, following Alvaro Ortiz’s triumph at Casa de Campo in 2019. De la Fuente, ranked 1,068th in the world, has come a long way after learning golf on a nine-hole course in Ocotlan, Jalisco, a course created by a cigarette filter company that needed a place to move the water.

His father, Gerardo, bought Snoopy golf clubs from Santiago when he was 3 years old.

“That’s where I fell in love,” De la Fuente said.

How it happened remains a bit of a mystery, even for Santiago himself.

“My dad shoots 120,” De la Fuente said with a laugh. “I think he saw a lot of videos and read a lot, because even I don’t know how he did it, but he trained me until I was 16.”

Gerardo De la Fuente knows exactly how it happened. As Santiago’s older brother took up golf, he took Santiago with him to the course.

“He was born with a club in his hand,” Gerardo said.

The elder De la Fuente had read a book about Tiger Woods. Through this, he learned that Woods’ father, Earl, put a putter in Tiger’s hands from an early age so he could become familiar with the feel of holding it. So that’s what Gerardo did with Santiago. That is, until he got old enough to complain that he wanted to use other clubs.

“He grew up in a place where there isn’t really a golf culture,” said Santiago Casado, coach of the Mexican Golf Federation. “The golf culture he had was planted by his father.”

This course in Ocotlan has since closed, but De la Fuente has not stopped. He is supported by the Atlas Club of Guadalajara, who granted him a membership after he started winning tournaments and now supports him financially. He also often plays at Guadalajara Country Club, where he tied the course record, shared with the PGA Tour pro. carlos ortiz. Boxer Canelo Alvarez also plays there.

“I don’t know if he says hello to say hello or if he knows who I am,” De la Fuente said.

While five players on the field this week attend and play at the University of Arkansas, De la Fuente plays at Arkansas Tech. In one season there, he already won a Division II national title and was named an All-American.

When De la Fuente began to attract interest from colleges in the United States a few years ago, he told his parents that the main factor was the amount of scholarship he was going to get. He was struck by the high cost of an education in the United States, so when Arkansas Tech coach Luke Calcatera hit up social media and offered him a full ride, it was a no-brainer.

“He deserved every penny of this scholarship,” Calcatera said.

The coach has already been around Santiago and raves about the shots the player was able to create should he go wrong.

“He plays with a lot of creativity and starts from what he sees, unlike a player who only has one set piece.”

Casado sees plenty of compatriots and PGA pro Abraham Ancer, who is currently ranked 20th in the world, in De la Fuente’s game. On Friday morning, he saw De la Fuente on the shooting range trying all sorts of different shots. If someone was watching him for the first time, they might think he was having a hard time when in reality he just likes to try things.

“He is a player who does things that cannot be learned,” said Casado. “He learned visually, he has a lot of imagination and sensitivity.”

That malleability and imagination helped De la Fuente this week at Casa de Campo. After an opening 72nd round, he managed to drive low stingers on the holes that skirted the windy Caribbean, setting him up for six birdies.

“I love inventing plans… when they work,” De la Fuente said, citing figures like Ballesteros Sap and its freewheeling style. “I think this style can be an advantage or a disadvantage. But for me, it’s an advantage.”

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