BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – A large banner hangs outside the entrance to Olivos Golf Club, one of two host sites for this week’s World Amateur Team Championship. Emiliano Grillo is the only male player on the banner, which makes perfect sense. The 18-year-old is the player to watch this week.
Grillo leads a strong Argentine contingent trying to win a world championship on home soil.
“It was a big surprise,” Grillo, 18, said of the fact that his figure looms over Olivos’ entrance. “I was happy, of course.”
Argentina is one of two countries in the Americas to host the WATC multiple times (the United States is the other). The Argentines have never won the gold medal, though. They have a good chance this week, having already claimed one team title this year at the WATC’s host sites – Olivos and Buenos Aires Golf Club.
Argentina, represented by Grillo and Tomas Cocha, won the men’s title at the Copa de las Americas in January, beating the United States’ Peter Uihlein and Nathan Smith.
Grillo and Cocha are representing their country once again, along with Jorge Fernandez Valdes. Uihlein also is in Argentina this week, representing a United States team that should be favored to take home the Eisenhower Trophy for the first time since 2004.
The United States’ three-man contingent contains both the winner and runner-up from the NCAA Championship and U.S. Amateur. Uihlein defeat David Chung in the U.S. Amateur final. Scott Langley finished two shots ahead of Uihlein in the NCAA Championship.
Uihlein is No. 1 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings; he’s finished either first or second in all three events this year. Langley also tied for 16th at the U.S. Open to earn co-low amateur honors. Chung won both the Porter Cup and Western Amateur this summer.
Chung has not competed since the U.S. Amateur, though. That doesn’t mean he hasn’t been on form. He shot a course-record 61 at Stanford Golf Course during a practice round.
“I’m excited to get back into competition,” Chung said.
The home team is strong, as well.
Grillo and Cocha shot 2-under 570 in the Copa de las Americas to defeat the United States by five shots.
“They’re playing on their own soil, in front of their own fans and representing their country,” Uihlein said. “They’re going to be tough to beat.”
Grillo’s 7-under 279 won the individual title by six shots, while Cocha finished ninth at 291. Uihlein finished fourth at 287.
“He’s a really good ballstriker,” Uihlein said of Grillo.
Grillo has been an AJGA first-team All-American each of the past two seasons. Cocha won the 2009 Doral-Publix Junior, a prestigious international competition held each December.
The World Amateur Team Championship will get underway Thursday, but Tuesday was the last day to make preparations. Buenos Aires will be in a virtual stand-still because of Census Day. Residents are required to stay home as the population is counted. Almost all businesses, including the golf courses, are closed.
The United States used to dominate this championship. Between 1964 and 1982, the Americans won nine of 12 showings. They’ve won just four of 13 since, including three consecutive victories in 2000, ’02 and ’04.
Scotland won the 2008 World Amateur team championship by nine shots over a U.S. team of Rickie Fowler, Jamie Lovemark and Billy Horschel. Sweden finished third, another five shots back. Two members of that team – Arizona State’s Jesper Kennegard and Augusta State’s Henrik Norlander – are playing this week. The third member of Sweden’s team, Jeff Karlsson, finished fourth at this year’s European Amateur. Karlsson plays at Kennesaw State.