For a moment, it looked like a watering header could cost Aaron Jarvis the biggest title of his career. The 19-year-old UNLV freshman from the Cayman Islands birdied the 18th hole to reach seven under par at the Latin American Amateur Championship, good enough for a solo lead after Brazilian Fred Biondi, who was in the lead for most of the day, fell to six under with a bogey on the 17th hole.
Minutes later, standing at the edge of the green near the 18th hole of Casa de Campo’s Teeth of the Dog course, Jarvis watched the final trio head home. Vicente Marzilio, the 20-year-old Argentine and defending United States Conference individual champion for the University of North Texas, was the most unlikely spoiler. He needed an eagle 3 to go seven under and force the playoffs, and although the final par 5 had been playing downwind all week, his approach felt short. Then it happened – his ball took off from a sprinkler just in front of the green, bounced towards the flagstick and came to rest maybe seven feet from the pin.
All Jarvis could do was laugh as those around him recoiled, but he knew he had a more pressing concern. It was Biondi, who passed his two playing partners and had 183 yards to the green. A junior redshirt eagle at the University of Florida would drop him to eight under and steal the title. But his approach started well and stayed there, leaving him with an awkward throw on an afternoon when his short game wasn’t quite up to scratch. Biondi landed his third a few yards too far down the green and missed the long birdie attempt (barely) to level Jarvis.
It left Marzilio, the watering-head him, on the verge of achieving what could be his country”s greatest sporting miracle since Maradona”s hand-of-god goal. Instead, his putt d” eagle let loose and Jarvis was mobbed by friends and family.
“It hit a sprinkler or something and bounced through the air, and I was like ‘oh my God,'” Jarvis said. “I just couldn’t believe it happened. Just a crazy ending.”
It’s also a start, as Jarvis will now travel to the Masters in April and the Open Championship in July, rewards for his LAAC triumph. (He is also exempt from the US Open Qualifying Final and from the British Amateur and US Amateur.)
Jarvis started Sunday in red, going three under his first six holes, but a bogey at No. 8 and a double bogey at No. 9 brought him firmly back into the pack, requiring a spectacular back nine to struggle. And that’s exactly what he delivered, with birdies on numbers 11, 12 and 15. On the 18th, Jarvis pushed his drive slightly to the right, but he stayed in the fairway, then he hit his shot of the tournament, a 253-yard 3-iron that hit the green. A missed eagle putt left him with a four-foot slider downhill, left-to-right, and though he called it the most nerve-wracking moment of his life, he drained the birdie for a three-under 69.
Jarvis spoke earlier in the week about his dual mission of winning the event and expanding golf to the Cayman Islands, a self-governing British overseas territory with just 71,000 people and two golf courses (including one from nine holes). It’s a big step in the right direction: he will become the first player from the Cayman Islands to compete at Augusta National.
“It’s crazy to represent the Cayman Islands,” Jarvis said. “I would like to keep doing it, involve more players, be an inspiration playing at the Masters and the British Open. It’s special.”
The North Sound Golf Club in Grand Cayman is the only 18-hole course, and it’s where Jarvis grew up playing after watching his brother compete in the Caribbean Amateur which whetted his appetite.
“From there I was like, ‘shit, let me start playing,'” he recalled. “That hooked me, and that obviously led to this point.”
His father worked in accounting, his mother in real estate, and they remained involved in their son’s early career as he won the Boys 15 & Under title at the 2018 Caribbean Junior Individual Championship and the 2019 Cayman Islands junior title. He moved to Florida for high school, attended Windermere Preparatory and began training at David Leadbetter Golf Academy while considering college. Three world amateur golf titles in 2020, including the South Junior Open, made him an enticing prospect, and he ultimately chose UNLV, former home of players like Adam Scott, Ryan Moore and Charley Hoffman. Prior to LAAC, his confidence was high.
“With the university experience under my belt [from the fall season], I knew I had a chance,” he said. “I had the mindset that I was good like anybody there. I went out and gave myself a chance to win, and I did.”
Now he’ll be playing at Augusta National and the Old Course in St. Andrews, and while he’s not old enough to have a celebratory drink in the US, he gave the gathered media a little nod when he said that in the Cayman Islands, the theoretical celebration of choice would involve a glass of rum or a beer called Presidente.
But mostly, Jarvis will be content with the pride that comes with such a monumental victory. And if you missed him last weekend, keep an eye out later this year for the Cayman Islands kid at the two most famous golf courses in the world.