January 23, 2018
Joaquin Niemann wanted to make his last round as an amateur one of his best. He was so good Tuesday that he felt he could birdie every hole and closed with an 8-under 63 for a five-shot victory in the Latin America Amateur Championship.
And that means his amateur career is not over yet.
Next up for the 19-year-old from Chile: the Masters at Augusta National.
Niemann lived up to his No. 1 world amateur ranking by playing a five-hole stretch in 6-under par around the turn at Prince of Wales Country Club. That carried him to a stress-free victory over Alvaro Ortiz of Mexico, a runner-up in the Latin America Amateur for the second straight year.
By winning, Niemann earns a spot in the Masters and would be exempt into the final stage of qualifying for the U.S. Open and British Open. He won't be eligible for those exemptions because he plans to turn pro after the Masters.
''After I wake up, walking to my car I say to myself, 'Let's make our last round of golf as an amateur a good round.' That gave me a lot of foundation to shoot a low round,'' Niemann said. ''Now I keep amateur until the Masters.''
It was the third time in four years that a Chilean has won the Latin American America. Gana won in a playoff last year over Ortiz and Niemann in Panama City, and Matias Dominguez won in 2015 in Buenos Aires.
Niemann attended the Masters last year with Toto Gana, and he plans to return the favor by bringing Gana as a guest this year.
The previous three Latin America Amateur champions have failed to make the cut at the Masters, a trend that Niemann hopes to change.
''I feel ready,'' said Niemann, who qualified for the U.S. Open last year at Erin Hills and missed the cut.
Trailing by one shot to Ortiz to start the final round, Niemann tied for the lead with one fortuitous bounce. His drive on the reachable par-4 eighth hole caromed off a tree, through the bunker and onto the green to set up an eagle. They were tied going to the back nine, where Niemann took the lead with a birdie on No. 10, and then expanded his lead to three shots with a birdie at No. 11 as Ortiz made bogey. Niemann birdied two of the next three holes to pull away.
Niemann said he would have turned pro if he had earned status in the Web.com Tour qualifying tournament last year. Instead, he remained an amateur and received quite the payoff. He's going to Augusta National, where he hopes to play a practice round with Masters champion Sergio Garcia and perhaps Tiger Woods.