Latin American Amateur: Niemann Completes his Quest
Joaquin Niemann, with the trophy, the medal, the flag, and Masters invite soon to come<br>(LAAC photo)
Joaquin Niemann, with the trophy, the medal, the flag, and Masters invite soon to come
(LAAC photo)

SANTAGO, CHILE (January 23, 2018) - Last April, Joaquin Niemann strolled the hallowed grounds of Augusta National in tennis shoes, wishing he was inside the ropes instead of outside of them. A few months earlier he had finished runner-up, losing to his best friend and fellow Chilean, Toto Gana, in a playoff at the Latin America Amateur. But as friends do, he made the trip to watch Gana compete in the Masters anyways.

“Of course I wanted to win, but as Toto and I talked about, that week was his time, his moment,” Niemann said last year. “I just have to wait for my moment.”

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The 19-year-old Niemann had his moment on Tuesday, firing a final-round 8-under 63 at Prince of Wales Country Club in his native Santiago, Chile, to win the 2018 Latin America Amateur Championship and earn his ticket to play at Augusta National this April.

He finished at 11 under despite opening with a 74 on Saturday. Niemann finished five shots clear of 54-hole leader
Alvaro Ortiz, a college player at Arkansas and also the younger brother of former PGA Tour player Carlos Ortiz. Ortiz shot a closing 69.

Three players--Jaime Lopez Rivarola of Argentina, Gabriel Morgan Birke of Chile, and Daniel Gurtner of Guatemala--finished in a tie for third, while the defending champion Gana, tied with Niemann to start the day, fell back to finish in seventh place.

Niemann was just 1 under through seven holes on Tuesday, but then got the break he needed on the 313-yard par-4 eighth hole. His attempt to drive the green sailed right, hit a tree, an ran through the bunker to within eight feet of the hole. After rolling in the eagle putt, he followed with five birdies in his next six holes to pull away from the field.

"I made birdie on three and after that I got a lucky bounce on #8 and after that I couldn't stop making birdies," said Niemann. "It was a fun day, and I can't wait until April to play the Masters."

"What really helped me was the playoff last year. That gave me a lot of experience. I think having two Chileans hoist that trophy before was also a big influence." Niemann becomes the third winner from Chile in the tournament's four years.

Had he not won Tuesday, Niemann was planning to immediately turn pro and play in a pro event in Chile this week before turning his focus to the Web.com Tour. But his LAAC victory alters those plans. Niemann will now turn pro the week after the Masters. (While not official, the RBC Heritage could be his first pro start as the PGA Tour tournament typically extend invites to amateurs who play in the previous week’s Masters before turning pro a week later.)

Niemann joins amateurs Doc Redman, Doug Ghim, Harry Ellis, Matt Parziale and Yuxin Lin in the 2018 Masters field. Winners of the LAAC also receive exemptions into the U.S. Amateur and British Amateur, as well as spots in final qualifying for the U.S. Open and British Open. (Niemann was already qualified for all four events, though he’ll lose all of those exemptions after he turns pro.)

Joaquin Niemann celebrates his LAAC win
When all eyes were on him,
Joaquin Niemann devlivered (LAAC photo)
Niemann told AmateurGolf.com that while he doesn't know his exact playing schedule leading up to the Masters, the LAAC will be his last amateur tournament. He will still play in that pro event (and maybe one or two more) in Chile next, and then try to gain entry into some Web.com Tour events leading up to the Masters, even Monday qualifying if that's what it takes. There are five Web.com Tour events between now and the Masters, three in central and South America, and two in the southeast U.S.

Niemann already has experience playing against the best in the world, having played at last year's U.S. Open at Erin Hills. But perhaps no combination of tournament and golf course is as challenging to prepare for as the Masters and Augusta National.

"Playing Augusta is going to be really difficult," said Niemann. "You have to know that golf course. I’ve played the Masters only through games, video games."

"If I have the chance to play with Sergio Garcia, it could be great because I imagine he’s going to help me with a game plan and let me know where the difficulties are and how to play that golf course. Since I was able to play the U.S. Open, thanks to the Latin America Amateur Championship, I’ve gone through a similar experience, and I just can’t wait to get there and see what happens."

Editor's note: Thanks to Golfweek for their contribution to this article.

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, 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 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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