Joaquin Niemann electrifies the crowd with a hole-out bunker shot on his final hole
SANTIAGO, CHILE (January 21, 2018) - The burden of being the pre-tournament favorite was perhaps weighing heavy on Joaquin Niemann. The #1 player in the World Amateur Golf Ranking chose to delay turning pro for just this opportunity--playing in the Latin America Amateur Championship in his home country of Chile, with a Masters invitation awaiting the winner.
He was so close last year, making it into a three-way playoff before ultimately falling to compatriot Toto Gana.
But after his opening round of 3-over 74 that left him well back of the leaders, Niemann was not deterred. "You can go low on this course, especially in the morning, and I’ll be playing early tomorrow," said Niemann afterward. "The course will be softer and no wind, so I’m going to be more aggressive to try to get in contention. There’s still a lot of golf to be played."
Related: Latin American Amateur: Final Masters Invite on the Line
Eighteen holes and 64 shots later, Niemann finds himself right back in the think of the chase at Prince of Wales Country Club.
Starting on the back nine, Niemann got to work early, making birdies on five of his first seven holes, to get into red numbers for the tournament. Two more birdies were offset by two bogeys around the turn, but he saved the best for last--a hole-out bunker shot for eagle on the final hole that electrified the partisan home crowd and put him 4 under for 36 holes.
"Today, I had a completely different mentality, and that’s usually what happens in my case," said Niemann. "When I shoot a bad round, the following day I have extra motivation. I realize and I feel that I have to play my best golf. The key to being a good golfer is to find those thoughts and to transfer them into good golf."
"I was standing on the tee on the [last] hole and I said, ‘All right, do something good here to close a good round.’ So, I hit a pretty good iron, but I ended up in the bunker, and my last thought was that the last time I had been in a bunker, I didn’t score very well from there. I said this time, I have to do my best. I have to really make a good shot. My idea was to leave it close to have a birdie, but it just went out and it disappeared."
The leader at 5 under is Jaime Lopez Rivarola of Argentina, who shot a 68 to go along with a 69 on Saturday.
"This is my fourth Latin America Amateur Championship", said Rivarola, "so what I’m doing different this year is not trying to think ahead of what’s going to happen later on. I try to stay in the present and know that, even though I am a leader by just one stroke, it doesn’t mean much. I have to stay in the present and try to do my best the next two days."
All three participants in last year's playoff are in the top four at the midway point this year. Gana shot an uneven 70 on Sunday, mixing six birdies with three bogeys and a double, but still sits just one behind Rivarola. Alvaro Ortiz of Mexico and the University of Arkansas shot a 70 and is alone in fourth at 3 under.
Five players are tied for fifth at 1 under, but the feeling is that the eventual champion very likely is one of the top four, with Niemann looking like the favorite he was coming in.
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
The LAAC champion annually receives an invitation
to compete in the Masters at Augusta National Golf
Club, and the the British Open Championship. In
addition, the winner and the runner(s)-up
are exempt into the final stages of qualifying for the
US Open Championship. The
is also awarded full exemptions into The Amateur
Championship, the US Amateur Championship and
any other USGA amateur championship for which he
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