Record 6 Latin Americans start strong at PGA Championship

By DAVE SKRETTA
AP Sports Editor

TULSA, Okla. (AP) – Joaquin Niemann spent his youth growing up in Chile trying to follow in the footsteps of Mito Pereira, who didn’t exactly make it easy as he went on to win prestigious amateur golf events in the United States and Scotland. and intermediate points.

Niemann certainly did a good job following Pereira’s path in the opening round of the PGA Championship.

Two of a record six Latin American players on the court, Neimann and Pereira each shot under-70 rounds at Southern Hills, leaving them just three shots behind leader Rory McIlroy going into Friday’s second round .

“I remember when I was probably 12, 13, and he was probably a few years older, and he would win everything in Chile,” Niemann recalled. “He would come to the United States and play the World Juniors, and I think he won that too. For me and all my friends that we grew up with playing together, seeing Mito, it was like, ‘ Oh, there’s Mito.’ He was impressive.

Pereira walked away from the game for a while before coming back to it, and now he’s playing better than ever. He had four birdies in his round Thursday, including three on five holes at the back.

“It’s nice to see on the front page two Chilean flags,” Niemann said, “and a Mexican flag too.”

Niemann may not believe it, but Pereira admitted on Thursday that he always knew who was chasing him growing up.

“Yes, I think it was mutual. We both kept feeding each other,” he said of Niemann. “Obviously he got there first. I went pro first, went to Latin America first, Korn Ferry (tours), so it was like we were all trying to feed each other. And then when he got here and played amazing golf, you see how close he is to getting here.

There is a rich history of Latin American players in professional golf, but few have competed in major championships. And only two, both Argentinians, have won: Roberto De Vicenzo by two strokes over Jack Nicklaus at the 1967 British Open in Hoylake, and Angel Cabrera, who won the US Open in 2007 and the Masters two years later. late.

Still, the latest crop could soon become a force in the game’s biggest events.

As of this weekend, in fact.

Mexico’s Abraham Ancer, who made the cut in all four majors and tied for eighth on the PGA last year, also got off to a strong start with 67 on Thursday. That left him tied for fourth behind McIlroy, Will Zalatoris and Tom Hoge.

“I felt like I played really, really well for maybe a round of 5 under,” Ancer said, “but I’ll never ask for too much after that. I know it’s a golf course difficult and that it can go the other way quickly.

This was the case for his compatriot Carlos Ortiz, who opened with 79. But otherwise, all the Latin Americans did well.

Colombia’s Sebastian Munoz opened with 74, as did Tiger Woods, and Venezuela’s Jhonattan Vegas shot 73, leaving the two ahead of PGA Tour Player of the Year Patrick Cantlay and four-time major winner Brooks Koepka.

“We are basically a team,” Pereira said of the Latin American contingent. “We are from another part of the world, so we come here and support each other. Sometimes try to share accommodation. So we have a very good relationship.

Ancer has won a World Golf Championship event, Vegas is a three-time winner on tour, and Ortiz and Munoz also have victories under their belts. Niemann is perhaps the hottest of them all, winning the Genesis Invitational at Riviera in February and making the cut at the Masters to go along with his 2019 title at the Greenbrier.

“Definitely, golf in Latin America is picking up steam,” he said. “I think everyone in South America is on the same page. I think everyone, all the young players who see us here playing on TV every week, I think that motivates a lot of young people.

“We didn’t have that in Chile back then,” Niemann said. “We never see a Chilean professional playing in Chile. Obviously we have Camilo (Villegas), Jhonny from Latin America, but now I think having players from all over the continent in South America is really good for golf in our region.

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