Niemann's bond with The Greenbrier becomes even more special
Final-round 64 earns 20-year-old first PGA TOUR victory
September 15, 2019
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
Joaquin Niemann wins by six at The Greenbrier
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W. Va. – Joaquin Niemann was trying his best not to get ahead of himself when he woke up on Sunday in this toney resort in the Allegheny Mountains.
The 20-year-old from Chile held a two-stroke lead entering the final round of A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier. But he wouldn’t be teeing off until 2:10 p.m. ET, so there was plenty of time to let his mind wander and think about how his life could change if he won his first PGA TOUR event.
Granted, there are multiple distractions for the vacationers at The Greenbrier – from swimming to riding horses to glass blowing to falconry, just to name a few. In fact, Niemann began the week spending two hours on Tuesday going off-roading with his buddy Carlos Ortiz.
“Definitely, next year I’m going again,” he said with a grin.
Sunday was the time for business, though. And Niemann harnessed his emotions and played with the poise of a veteran at The Old White TPC, shooting a near-flawless 64 that lifted him to 21 under and six shots ahead of the field, the largest margin of victory in the history of the tournament.
“I just couldn't think about this moment, like holding the trophy,” he said. “I was like, man, take it easy. We got 18 holes to play. Don't think about that yet. Just go out there and have fun.
“I just couldn't think about that moment in the entire day, so I was just trying to think about anything else. My caddie is very funny, so he was just talking to me and make me laugh to just try to forget about that.
“Then the last couple holes I was feeling great. I was really enjoying.”
With the victory, Neimann joined some elite company. The late Seve Ballesteros of Spain and Rory McIlroy are the only other international players to win on TOUR before the age of 21 – although the Northern Irishman only made it by two days. Neimann, for his part, turns 21 in November.
Shot of the Day
Joaquin Niemann's 22-foot birdie putt on No. 18 for the Shot of the Day
The victory in the PGA TOUR season-opener did more than put Niemann at the top of the FedExCup points list and double his bank account, too. He’s firmly established himself as one of the prime candidates for one of Ernie Els’ picks for the International Team for The Presidents Cup.
Els, who will announce his picks in early November along with U.S. Captain Tiger Woods, was well aware of what Niemann had done. The Chilean finished the automatic qualification period ranked 28th but was definitely on his radar screen.
“What a fantastic win for Joaquin at The Greenbrier,” Els told PGA TOUR officials in a text message. “I’m really proud of him, and it’s a wonderful start to his season. I’m looking forward to more of his great play.”
Niemann may be a relative newbie as far as The Presidents Cup is concerned. But he’s clearly focused on playing for Els at Royal Melbourne in December, calling it a “dream” – not unlike the kind that entered his wide-ranging thoughts on Sunday morning.
“I know that there is a lot of good players fighting for the first spots,” Niemann said. “I know it's going to be tough, and this win definitely helps to get a little -- probably a little help to get in the first spots. But I don't know yet.
“Just got to be patient and get a couple more tournaments to have good golf and hopefully get in that team.”
Niemann has a special bond with The Greenbrier. He was the world’s No. 1 amateur in 2017 when he received his first-ever sponsor’s exemption and tied for 29th. A year later – as he parlayed his status as a special temporary member into a PGA TOUR card – Niemann tied for fifth.
Interestingly, in both those tournaments, as well as on Sunday, Niemann closed with a 64.
Neimann started Sunday’s final round in sole possession of the lead and was briefly tied twice. But he pulled away with a back-nine 31 that included birdies -- and a series of uncharacteristic fist-pumps – on the final three holes.
“Normally, I’m not really like too excited any time,” said Niemann, who punctuated the win with a 21-footer for birdie at the 18th hole. “I normally like never do fist-pump and kind of those things. The emotions in that moment on the last couple holes was just crazy.
“I was just thinking on the first win I made when I was a kid and I was dreaming on this moment. … I couldn’t resist it.”
The real celebration will have to wait, though.
Niemann boarded a charter plane Sunday night to Jackson, Mississippi, where he will play in the Sanderson Farms Championship this week. His girlfriend will join him there, and he’ll have time to answer all those text messages that were blowing up his phone.
In December, Neimann plans to head home to Santiago. That’s when he’ll really get to celebrate – he loves a big barbecue and grilling stakes – with his family and friends.
“I just never thought this moment was going to come,” Niemann said. “Now that I got my first victory, just unbelievable. I don't know what I'm going to do. I just can't wait to go back home and celebrate with my friends.”
Joaquin Niemann's news conference after winning The Greenbrier