Paul Chaplet is a 16-year-old kid about to make history, although most folks in Costa Rica have yet to fully comprehend his accomplishment. This past weekend, the Tico teen won the Latin America Amateur Championship, a golf competition held at a world-class site in the Dominican Republic. With the victory comes an invitation to play in the prestigious Masters tournament in Augusta, Georgia this coming April, plus the U.S. Open, the British Open, and other events. What’s special is that Chaplet will be the second youngest amateur to ever tee it up at the The Masters, where he will rub elbows with golf’s elite and hang out at the famed Crow’s Nest lodge.
“It’s really a dream come true, especially at my age,” he candidly remarked to Augusta.com. “My goal was to just do well, so I can’t ask for anything more.”
Latin America has never been a hot bed for golf talent, producing only a few players with name recognition, like Argentina’s Ángel Cabrera and Camilo Villegas from Colombia, or Lorena Ochoa from Mexico. The late Hugo Chávez called golf a “bourgeois sport,” and was successful in closing down most of Venezuela’s top country clubs. But when Jhonattan Vegas won the 2011 Bob Hope Classic, the comandante reacted like a proud papa.
“He beat all the gringos,” noted Chávez with glee.
Costa Rica, with its surging tourism industry, has become a mecca for golf enthusiasts. The Four Seasons Resort at Peninsula Papagayo, along with Los Suenos, which is cut out within a tropical rainforest, are two of the world’s most interesting layouts. Middle-class ticos don’t know much about these jewels just yet, nor the other nine links that dot the republic. But it’s only a matter of time before they embrace something new and unique.
“I didn’t know anything about golf until my mom bought a lesson for my sister,” recalls Chaplet, who was only 10 at the time. “The coach asked me if I wanted to hit the ball, and from that day on it kind of grasped.”
Six years later, Paul Chaplet has created a lot of buzz, capturing a crown he wasn’t supposed to wear. It took steady, almost flawless shot-making to persevere over a field of college stars with twice the experience. Now, the San Jose youngster will take his time to mull over scholarship offers of his own from San Diego State, University of Arizona, and other schools. Golf – not fútbol – will dictate his future. It’s possible Paul Chaplet was meant to be golf’s newest ambassador, in a region where the game is still an enigma.