Ben Everill / PGATOUR.COM
LOS ANGELES – You can take the boy out of Chile but you won’t get the Chile out of the boy. Actually it seems you can’t always get the boy out of Chile either.
Joaquin Niemann’s second PGA TOUR victory, a stunning wire-to-wire triumph in The Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club, was born back in Santiago a few months ago.
The 23-year-old planned an extended off-season in Chile after The RSM Classic last fall and didn’t return to competition until the Farmers Insurance Open late last month. While Niemann didn’t qualify for the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Maui (where he finished second after a playoff in 2021) he could have returned to the Sony Open in Hawaii where he was runner up for the second straight week.
But a return to his roots was way more important at the time.
“A reset and refresh of the mind,” long-time girlfriend and fellow Chilean Christina Hellema Puga said.
“No doubt. I needed it,” Niemann beamed.
Staying true to his origins and culture is imperative for the greatest golfer Chile has ever produced. Without time to visit the beaches and lakes of his homeland, or have time with his family and friends, his mental state fades.
And after not being able to close out another victory since his triumph at A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier in 2019, frustrations were certainly starting to build for the former world No.1 amateur by late 2021.
“I think I need it to bring some energy to my body,” Niemann confessed after collecting the winner’s trophy from none-other than idol Tiger Woods.
“It’s something I like to do every year; I go back to my normal life. I’ve been here for a little more than three years and it is a hard life obviously, especially for us when we don’t live in the United States, being so far from home.
“So it’s nice to go back once in a while, see my friends, see my family, do what I used to do when I was 16.”
When pressed on what exactly that is Niemann flashed his trademark grin and said, “Party! Party, party, and more parties. We like to have a good time. Enjoy the company of friends and just live life.”
This attitude is why it was no surprise to see his friends on TOUR waiting for him at the green as he closed out the two-shot win over Collin Morikawa and Cameron Young. The Latin American crew of Carlos Ortiz, Mito Pereira, Jhonattan Vegas, and Sebastian Munoz were all there to congratulate their mate, as was mentor Sergio Garcia.
Not a tournament goes by when they’re not all hanging out together. Often renting houses, hiring chefs, and making sure they get a taste of ‘home’. Practice rounds are full of laughs. They help each other through the homesickness.
“They’re awesome. All the Latinos, it makes our life easier, more fun, more entertainment. Obviously we play 30 weeks a year and out of those 30 weeks a year you want to spend as much time having fun as you can,” Niemann adds.
“We stay together, we play practice rounds together. We’re really unified all together and we have a great relationship. Having them here on 18, it was something really special for me.”
They weren’t the only visitors at the final hole. When most fans were on their way out the gates, a large crew of Latino supporters were still chanting Niemann’s name. Naturally that meant he took the Chilean flag and trophy and posed with the crew.
Joaquin Niemann celebrating with the fans after his second career win on the PGA TOUR. (Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images)
“The fans, there was a lot of Latinos, a lot of Chileans, so you can feel the support of them. They were cheering differently than the people here,” Niemann said. “It was special to have them there and spend some time with them. They followed me the whole round.”
It certainly was a special week. Niemann became the fourth wire-to-wire winner in tournament history, but the first since Charlie Sifford in 1969. He also became the second youngest winner and moved to seventh in the FedExCup and fifth in the International Presidents Cup standings.
While he failed to match the longest standing 72-hole record of any current TOUR event of 264 by Lanny Wadkins by a shot he did pick up the 54-hole scoring record at 194 (-19) along the way. Niemann also led the field in birdies (21), Strokes Gained: Approach The Green (7.097) and Strokes Gained: Tee to Green (14.113).
“Obviously it’s one of the toughest tournaments during the year. It’s got the best field, the best players are here and that proves to myself that I can be competing with the top guys, I can be up there in the world ranking,” Niemann said.
“I think it’s going to give me a lot of confidence for what is coming next.”
With speculation rife around the world of golf about potential rival leagues, Niemann now appears set to keep that ‘next’ on the PGA TOUR. The victory comes with a three-year exemption.
“Everyone’s here to compete against the best players in the world. I’m here to do the same. I want to compete with the best players in the world, I want to be No. 1 one day,” he said.
“There’s nothing better than what I’m feeling right now. Winning a PGA TOUR event, getting a trophy, having Tiger there, all the history behind it, there’s nothing that can compete with this.”
Nothing maybe except for a trip home to Chile.