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Top amateur golf moments of 2018, No. 25: A quest completed
Joaquin Niemann (LAAC photo)
Joaquin Niemann (LAAC photo)

At AmateurGolf.com, we admit to loving the amateur sector of this game for the stories, the depth of the players, the remarkable courses, the history of the tournaments and the sheer love of the game displayed by amateur golfers. As 2018 comes to a close, we’ve gathered the year’s best stories for a countdown to the end of the season. Be sure to come back each day to relive the moments that made amateur golf great this year.

Click here to see the whole list as it is revealed

Sometimes, rarely, the thing you’ve been holding out for in this game happens. It all came together for Joaquin Niemann in January 2018.

Niemann, the 20-year-old from Santiago, Chile, had eyes on the Masters, as many amateurs do. There are a handful of ways for an amateur to qualify, but Niemann’s best shot was the Latin America Amateur, a tournament in which he’d finished T-3 in 2016 and lost in a playoff in 2017. Niemann wanted to turn professional in 2018 but was giving himself one last shot at Augusta.

Despite opening with 74 at Prince of Wales Country Club in his native Santiago, Chile, at the January event, Niemann played his way to 11 under. A final-round 8-under 63 was crucial.

Had he not won the event and earned the final amateur exemption into the Masters field, Niemann was planning to immediately turn pro and play in a pro event in Chile later in January before turning his focus to the Web.com Tour. Instead, Niemann teed it up at the Masters, missed the cut with rounds of 76-77 and turned professional the next week.

Niemann scored invitations to the Valero Texas Open, Memorial and AT&T Byron Nelson. Overall, he made 12 PGA Tour starts as a professional in the 2018 season and finished inside the top 10 four times. He earned enough FedEx Cup points to secure his Tour card for the 2019 season – a rare and remarkable feat. Niemann is one of very few young players good enough to bypass qualifying completely. He hasn’t missed a cut in five starts to open the 2019 wraparound season.

As an amateur, Niemann earned notable victories at the 2016 IMG Junior World Championship, 2017 Junior Invitational at Sage Valley and the Mexican International Amateur that same year. He also qualified for the 2017 U.S. Open and was awarded the Mark H. McCormack Medal later that summer as the leading player in the World Amateur Golf Ranking.

Joaquin Niemann
To Niemann, the Latin America Amateur – now in its fourth year in existence and with three Chilean-born champions – did exactly what it was designed to do. Niemann, who reports becoming hooked on the game as a 4-year-old, referenced the crowd of locals who followed him during the final round. No Chilean-born player has ever won a major championship, and Niemann hopes to be the first.

“The Latin America Championship is the biggest event in Latin America, of course,” Niemann said in an early-week Masters press conference. “It gives you the best prize you can get for winning, getting to the Masters. You can't get any better than that. So, I mean, for the game mostly it's really good because it helps little kids to start practicing and try to grow up their game in the whole country and whole continent.”

And it helps even more when there’s a leading man with a great story, like Niemann.

Results: Latin America Amateur
1ChileJoaquin NiemannChile120074-64-72-63=273
2MexicoAlvaro OrtizMexico90069-70-70-69=278
T3ArgentinaJaime Lopez RivarolaArgentina70069-68-73-69=279
T3ChileGabriel Morgan-BirkeChile70072-70-69-68=279
T3GuatemalaDaniel GurtnerGuatemala70070-71-69-69=279

View full results for Latin America Amateur

ABOUT THE Latin America Amateur

Founded by the Masters Tournament, The R&A and the USGA, the LAAC was established to further develop amateur golf in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean. The LAAC is a 72-hole stroke play event open to a field of 108 amateur players in Latin America, chosen by their respective national federations according to their World Amateur Golf Ranking. Past winners of the championship, as well as last year’s top-five finishers, are automatically entered into this year’s championship.

The LAAC champion annually receives an invitation to compete in the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club. In addition, the winner and the runner(s)-up are exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The Open and the US Open Championship. The champion is also awarded full exemptions into The Amateur Championship, the US Amateur Championship and any other USGA amateur championship for which he is eligible.

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