By Ron Driscoll, USGA
Joaquin Niemann showed why he is the No. 1 player in the World Amateur Golf Ranking by his attitude as he walked up the 18th fairway in Tuesday’s final round of the Latin America Amateur Championship.
Sure, the native of Santiago was reveling in the cheers of his fellow Chileans once he had knocked his second shot onto the green of No. 18 at Prince of Wales Country Club to assure his victory, but he wasn’t done with his round just yet.
“I told my caddie that on the first day I shot 3 over, the second day 7 under – so that was 10 shots difference,” said Niemann, whose 64 in Round 2 tied the LAAC record for low round. “I told him that today I should make a birdie on the last hole so that I can keep that difference of 10 strokes [72 in Round 3 Monday, and 62 on Tuesday]. So that was our goal.”
Niemann missed on the birdie try, settling for a four-round ledger of 74-64-72-63 for a total of 273 strokes, 11 under par and five strokes clear of the field. He broke the 72-hole LAAC record set by fellow Chilean Matias Dominguez in 2015 by three strokes.
“When I had a very short putt to make par, I was just very happy,” said Niemann, who had finished in a tie for second with Alvaro Ortiz of Mexico in 2017 behind countryman Toto Gana after Gana captured a playoff. “It felt really good to be celebrating with my caddie and the people who were walking with me. I didn’t feel any of the heat.”
Rather, Niemann applied the heat to his adversaries, making an early birdie on the par-5 third hole, then beginning his run to the title with an eagle on the 313-yard, par-4 eighth hole, on which the tee had been moved up some 50 yards for the final round. His tee shot struck a tree and bounced through a bunker onto the green, finishing 10 feet from the hole. He took advantage of the fortuitous break and made the putt to trigger a stretch of 7 under in seven holes, adding five birdies in the next six holes. The run ended with a two-putt birdie on the par-5 14th, and he made four solid pars on the difficult closing quartet of holes to seal his triumph.
“I have to go home and watch it on TV because I don’t know what that ball hit,” said Niemann of the bounce on No. 8, which gave him the outright lead over 54-hole leader Ortiz, who was playing with Gana and Daniel Gurtner of Guatemala in the final grouping of the day, just behind Niemann.
“I liked the fact that I was going out in front,” said Niemann of being in the penultimate grouping. “I told my caddie, we have to make birdies early on so that people will start screaming and they hear it. I believe the roars were really big and in a way, it gave me more motivation.”
Several Chilean flags flew and a crowd of several hundred followed as Niemann traversed the incoming nine, and he stretched his lead to four strokes by birdieing No. 12 from 10 feet as Ortiz three-putted the par-3 11th behind him.
“It’s a work day, and it’s vacation season in Santiago, but when you have a world-class show, you cannot miss it,” said Desiree Soulodre, one of the directors of the Chile Golf Federation, on the crowd following Niemann, who was introduced to the game in Chile’s Golf Action junior program. After the round, Niemann noted the support of the federation in helping forge the nation’s three victories in four LAAC events to date.
“Also, the professional golfers here in Chile have a good relationship with the federation,” said Niemann. “We have tournaments in which we compete against the pros. I think that’s a huge motivation to be contending with someone that you know is better than you. It gives you extra motivation to get up and practice.”
Niemann vows to help continue the encouragement of younger players.
“I remember when I was 6 or 7 years old and I would ask the pro players for a golf ball,” said Niemann. “I remember thinking that I wanted to be in their position. Anything I can do to help the game grow in Chile and in Latin America, I will do it.”