Dominguez eagerly awaits Masters

As hard as he tried to block out the obvious, doing so proved to be more problematic than dealing with any of the treacherous greens at Augusta National will be in a few weeks' time.

There was the four-hour weather delay to endure, far too much time for all manner of crazy thoughts to enter his head. And then there were those guys in the green jackets meandering about, the Augusta National members who strolled the Buenos Aires course, the ultimate reminder of what was at stake.

Matias Dominguez managed to complete the task, winning the inaugural Latin America Amateur Championship back in January by a single stroke over Argentina's Alejandro Toski, earning an invitation to the Masters.

And now the prize for that victory is looming.

"I knew the Masters was on the line,'' said the 22-year-old Dominguez, a senior at Texas Tech who will be among the six amateurs invited to the Masters when the year's first major championship begins in three weeks. "But my goal was not to think about the Masters. I knew whoever could control the pressure and the ambition of trying to get to the Masters would have it easier. My whole strategy consisted of not thinking about it. And I did a pretty good job of that.

"But once I got to the last five holes, that's when it really started testing me. It wasn't easy.''

How could it be? A Masters invitation was the prize waiting for a golfer from Santiago, Chile, where golf is not exactly a big sport? He will become just the second golfer from his country -- Enrique Orellana in 1964 was the first -- to compete in the Masters.

This week, Dominguez gets a different opportunity, a spot in the Web.com Tour's Chile Classic, where he has been given a sponsor's exemption to compete. It will be his first time back in his hometown of Santiago since winning the Latin America Amateur title.

It will also be the first time Dominguez competes in a professional event.

"I'm just trying to get used to that environment,'' he said. "To play golf in Chile, you need to be a member of a club. I was lucky enough to have that opportunity. I wish more people could have the same opportunity as me. For me, it was easy. I wish we had more public courses so everyone could have the opportunity to help grow the game in Chile. I had all the support from my family I needed. That's what kept me going. And then also I put a lot of effort behind it.''

Dominguez's story is exactly the type of scenario envisioned by Augusta National, the United States Golf Association and the R&A officials when they announced the staging of the first Latin America Amateur Championship in 2014.

Much like the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship, which was first staged in 2009 and also offers a Masters invite, the idea was to help grow the game and offer opportunity in a region that might otherwise struggle to do so.

Dominguez said the reaction in his homeland has been what he could have imagined. The country has just 60 golf courses, with only 12 in Santiago.

"That same day I won the Latin America Amateur Championship, after all the media, pictures and everything, I checked my phone and I had something like 900 messages,'' he said. "People who didn't even play golf were going crazy. It's been a really exciting moment for all my close friends, but not only golf. I can't wait to get back and hear all the stories they have as they were watching and how nervous they got. I know my friends were having a heart attack, especially that putt on the last hole.''

Dominguez has yet to decide when he might turn pro, wanting to see how things progress. He plans to graduate in December with a degree in arts and sciences.

But first is this week's event in his hometown, and then the Masters.

Dominguez has already been to Augusta National -- twice. A year ago, he joined several of his Texas Tech teammates for an outing. "It was such an exciting place and we were all there with the idea that we might not ever be back,'' he said.

He returned again earlier this month for a two-day practice session, one that he knows will be far different than what he will experience when Masters week arrives.

"Having this opportunity at the end of my college and amateur career completes everything I've worked for,'' he said. "I'm enjoying this moment a lot.''