LA ROMANA, Dominican Republic (AP) — Six years after Paul Chaplet first touched a golf club, the 16-year-old from Costa Rica is going to the Masters.
Chaplet closed with a 2-under 70 on Sunday to win the Latin American Amateur, earning an exemption to Augusta National in April and a spot in the final stage of qualifying for the U.S. Open and British Open.
“I wasn’t expecting to win,” Chaplet said. “I was expecting to shoot under par, which is my main goal, so that was accomplished. And with that came the win, so I can’t really ask for much more.”
As for a chance to tee it up in April with Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and the world’s best players?
“It’s all you can dream of,” he said.
Chaplet overcame a four-shot deficit at Casa De Campo, quickly making up ground on 54-hole leader Gaston Bertinotti of Argentina, who stumbled to a 77 on the Teeth of the Dog course. Chaplet had three birdies on the front nine and didn’t drop a shot until the 13th hole. He made bogey on the 16th and closed with two pars to post 3-under 285, and then he had to wait to see if anyone could catch him.
Jorge Garcia of Venezuela, playing in the final group, made a bogey on the 17th to fall one shot behind and his birdie on the 18th to force a playoff narrowly missed. Garcia closed with a 74.
This was the second year of the Latin American Amateur, which is run by Augusta National, the USGA and the R&A to help grow golf around the world. It was modeled after the Asian Amateur, which began in 2009 and produced such winners as Hideki Matsuyama and 14-year-old Guan Tinglang.
Guan made the cut when he played the Masters in 2013, the youngest player to do that in a 72-hole major.
“So that means that there is a possibility to play very well, even if you’ve never played in a PGA Tour event or you’ve never played with professional golfers,” Chaplet said. “So I think there might be a chance that I can do something good when I play there.”
Until Sunday, Chaplet’s biggest achievement was winning a U.S. Kids’ Championship at Pinehurst No. 2.
That he even plays golf is surprising.
He said he was 10 when his mother bought his sister a golf club, and Chaplet went along “not knowing what golf was.”
“The coach told me, ‘You want to hit a golf ball?’ and I said, ‘Yes.’ And from that day on, I kind of grasped it,” he said.
Chaplet plays at Valle del Sol in Costa Rica. He first shot par when he was 12 and set his sights on other Costa Rica players like Alvaro Ortiz, Jose Mendez and Andres Russi. They were older and better, and they were all at Casa De Campo this week.
“I wanted to be better, and at least beat them, and that was my motivation to get better,” he said. “And to be standing here with them by my side and being the one to hold up with them is a goal accomplished.”
Chaplet is in his senior year of high school with hopes of playing college golf in the United States. He said the four colleges on his list were San Diego State, Arizona, Minnesota and Sam Houston State.
“Those are the four I’m talking to right now, and I hope to some day be in one of those,” he said.
An appearance at Augusta National the first full weekend in April surely won’t look bad on the teenager’s application.