LA ROMANA, Dominican Republic — Luis Fernando Barco isn’t the type to brag, so we’ll do it for him. The 23-year-old native of Peru has made a steady rise up the World Amateur Golf Ranking, going from 588th entering the 2016 Latin America Amateur Championship, to 270th in 2017, to 156th in 2018, to his current spot at 24th, the highest of any player in the field this week at Casa de Campo.
Yet instead of pounding his lanky chest and professing himself the man to beat, Barco has spent a little extra time on the practice range the past few days, hoping to make the most of what might be his last tournament as an amateur.
And so far, so good. A second-straight three-under 69 on the Teeth of the Dog course left him at six under midway through the championship, one stroke back of Juan Cayro Delgado of the Dominican Republic and tied with Mexico’s Alvaro Ortiz, Thursday’s first-round leader.
“I’m not really trying to prove anything,” said Barco when asked if the ranking has him thinking differently about himself. “I came here like any other week, just trying to do my best. The ranking is not something I can control.”
No, actually it is. Victories last year at the Peruvian Amateur and Mexican Amateur help explain the most recent jump, along with qualifying for the U.S. Amateur for a fourth straight year last August, and playing for his country in the World Amateur Team Championship last September in Ireland.
Barco was a collegiate golfer at Purdue, having graduated in 2017 with a degree in marketing. He says it’s a coincidence that he has improved so much since leaving West Lafayette. Well, sort of. He admits that no longer having to carve out time to study and being able to devote more of his energy to his game has paid dividends.
It wasn’t just because of his ranking that Barco deserved to feel confident heading to the Dominican. There’s also the fact he’s had a good deal of success in his three previous starts at the LAAC. He had finished inside the top 25 every year, including a T-3 showing at Casa de Campo in 2016, coming in two strokes behind winner Paul Chaplet.
When he finished his college career, Barco considered turning pro but decided it wasn’t the right time. “I wasn’t quite ready yet. I wasn’t playing as good as I would like. My results still just weren’t there,” he said, having posted seven top-10s as a Boilermaker and finishing his senior season with a 72.7 stroke average.
Back in Peru, Barco lives three blocks from Lima Golf Club, the course he where he first started playing the game at 13. The chance to be a full-time amateur helped him sharpen his skills and make his game more reliable. Reliable enough to decide to make the jump to the pro ranks as Barco will compete at the PGA Tour Latinoamerica Q school in a few weeks.
Unless, of course, he were to pull out the victory this weekend, in which case he’ll gladly delay his pro debut until after April and the chance to take advantage of the Masters invitation that goes to the LAAC champ.
“It will be a nice problem to have,” Barco said. Humbly.