WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — Joaquin Niemann is going to give International Team captain Ernie Els something to think about when he makes his captain’s picks for the Presidents Cup.
Niemann became the first player from Chile to win on the PGA Tour, shooting a 6-under 64 on Sunday for a six-stroke victory in A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier.
The 20-year-old Niemann entered the final round of the season opener with a two-stroke lead and held off challenges from Tom Hoge and Richy Werenski. Niemann birdied the final three holes to finish at 21-under 259 at Old White TPC, which has quickly become one of his favourite venues.
“I just never thought this moment was possible,” Niemann said. “I can’t wait to go back home and celebrate with all of my friends.”
While eight players already qualified for the International Team that will play the U.S. team in December at Royal Melbourne in Australia, Els will choose the four remaining team International members the week of Nov. 4.
“Being on the Presidents Cup is just a dream,” Niemann said. “It’s a really good team this year. There’s a lot of good players fighting for those spots. This win definitely helps.”
Niemann grew up in Santiago, Chile, won a pair of junior world titles and was the No. 1 ranked amateur in the world before turning pro in 2018. He played his first full season on tour in 2019, finishing No. 67 in the FedEx Cup standings.
In 2017, Niemann finished tied for 29th as an amateur at The Greenbrier after receiving a sponsor’s exemption. He improved to a tie for fifth in 2018.
Niemann said the resort’s dozens of amenities have steered his mind away from the pressure of golf. Among the activities he participated in before the tournament started was exploring the rugged side of West Virginia with his caddie in an off-road vehicle.
“I was just feeling like I was going to win the tournament from the first day,” he said. “I was in that mindset.”
Niemann is the first third-round leader to win at The Greenbrier since its debut in 2010. He shot 64 in the final round for the third straight year.
He told himself before the round started to go out and have fun.
“I was just trying not to think of anything else,” Niemann said. “My caddie made me laugh to try to forget about it. The last couple of holes I was feeling great.”
It marks the first year since 1931 that there has been more than one tour winner under 21. Matthew Wolff won the 3M Open in June at 20 years, 2 months.
Hoge shot 65 and finished second at 15 under. Werenski faded to a 69 and finished in a four-way tie for third at 14 under, along with Brian Harman (65), Harris English (67) and Nate Lashley (69).
Hoge fell short in another chance at an elusive first win. At the 2018 Sony Open, he lost a one-shot lead with three holes to play, finished third and missed a playoff.
Hoge birdied five of his first eight holes Sunday, then birdied the 568-yard 12th hole to temporarily join Niemann at 16 under before making bogeys on two of his next three holes.
“A couple bad shots I would like to have back, but it was a good week and good way to start the year,” Hoge said.
Niemann made a short birdie putt on the par-4 10th to forge ahead for good. He saved par from 6 feet at No. 11, made birdie putts of 9 feet at No. 12 and a curling 13-footer at No. 13 that prompted a fist pump to push his lead to four.
There would be more bursts of joy down the stretch.
“Normally I’m not too excited,” Niemann said. “I normally don’t do fist pumps. The emotions on the last couple of holes was crazy. Just making those putts on the last three holes was unbelievable. I couldn’t resist.”