For the second time in less than a month, Argentina is singing, “Dale campeon!” Or in English, “Let’s go, champion!”
First, it was for Lionel Messi and Co. after they won the World Cup in Qatar.
On Sunday, it was for Mateo Fernandez de Oliveira, who turned in a masterclass of his own to capture the Latin America Amateur Championship in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico.
The Buenos Aires native, a day shy of his 23rd birthday, capped a record 23-under week with a 5-under 67 to best Mexico’s Luis Carrera by four shots and become Argentina’s second LAAC champion, following Abel Gallegos in 2020. The Arkansas senior, competing in his fifth LAAC, also is the third player in LAAC history to win after finishing runner-up the year prior, joining Chile’s Joaquin Niemann, in 2018, and Mexico’s Alvaro Ortiz, a former Razorback who placed second twice before winning in 2019.
Unlike any of the previous champions, however, Fernandez de Oliveira can count on three major championship starts thanks to his victory, as the U.S. Open this year joined the Masters and The Open in extending an invitation to the LAAC winner.
“I'm still very shocked,” Fernandez de Oliveira said. “I think my life has changed.”
Fernandez de Oliveira was among the favorites to begin the week at Grand Reserve Golf Club. At No. 34 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, only Brazil’s Fred Biondi was ranked better. After opening in 68-67 to sit one shot back of Carrera, Fernandez de Oliveira turned in a third-round, 9-under 63 to tie Niemann's championship record.
And at 18 under through 54 holes, also a record, the humble Argentine, up by four, looked to be on cruise control.
"It was easy until I went to bed last night," said Fernandez de Oliveira, who woke up at 4:40 a.m. Sunday and struggled to go back to sleep.
At breakfast, Fernandez de Oliveira ate with a camera in his face.
"I felt like I lived a reality show today," he added.
Despite the nerves, Fernandez de Oliveira leaned into his talent, especially his world-class short game. His lone bogey of the final round came early, at the third hole, but even with Carrera charging – he played the first 11 holes in 6 under – Fernandez de Oliveira never let his opponent within two shots.
"I was hitting some really good shots starting the back nine, too, and he was making up-and-downs from everywhere and making putts," Carrera said, "and I felt like I was playing very solid, and I was just, like, the strokes, like I wasn't getting very close to him. I mean, I got I think like two shots close to him, but I wasn't getting much closer."
Added Fernandez de Oliveira: "I just played thinking about it was never done."
Fernandez de Oliveira even walked ahead of his playing competitors down the stretch, at times hitting his tee shot while Carrera and fellow Argentine Vincente Marzilio were still on the previous green.
"We were behind all day long, so we needed to speed up," Fernandez de Oliveira said. "I just tried not to rush myself when I was doing that. So, that's why when I was getting to the ball, I tried to get a sip of water, just to stay within my rhythm."
After tapping in a sixth straight par at No. 18 to wrap up a decisive victory, Fernandez de Oliveira got more than sip. He was showered with water bottles by other members of Argentina's national team, including his Arkansas teammates Segundo Oliva Pinto and Manuel Lozada.
Later, once Fernandez de Oliveira emerged from scoring, they all serenaded their champion.
Eight years ago, Fernandez de Oliveira was a 15-year-old scoring volunteer at the inaugural LAAC in Buenos Aires. He remembers following countryman Alejandro Tosti down the stretch and watching as Tosti's title bid fell short of winner Matias Dominguez of Chile.
"It's been a long time [since then]," Fernandez de Oliveira said. "I went through a lot of things ... the process was very long, but I think my 15‑year‑old [self], the young kid, would be proud."
He wasn't the only one.