When Mito Pereira dropped a three-shot lead in the 2022 PGA Championship, he missed the chance to join Joaquin Niemann as the only Chilean golfer to have won a PGA Tour event.
Niemann got his maiden win in the Greenbrier Classic in 2019, just a year after turning pro. With two subsequent play-off losses in 2021, he then held off Collin Morikawa and Cameron Young to record his second Tour victory in the Genesis Invitational in February 2022.
As a professional, 23-year-old Niemann is certainly fulfilling the promise he showed as an amateur, when he achieved world number one ranking for almost a whole year.
RSNG.com meets a man looking to shake up the game as a pro…
RSNG Some players can take a while to get their first win on the PGA Tour, such is the high standard. Were you surprised to get that debut win so quickly?
JOAQUIN NIEMANN, THE CHILEAN CHAMP “Yes, I will admit it came sooner than I expected; and to win by such a clear margin [of six shots] was a surprise as well.
“I have worked with my coach for many years around clearing the mind of all scores during a round. Sometimes it works for me, sometimes it doesn’t, but I know I wasn’t fully aware of what was going on elsewhere, and that was a good thing.
“Only afterward did I fully appreciate what was happening with other players, and I don’t think there is any real benefit from knowing your rivals are dropping shots. You have to maintain your own intensity as priority, and having the notion that you can ease off or relax is not necessarily a good thing.
“What pleased me just as much about the win was the fact I handled my own nerves really well. This is something that has impacted me in the past and, perhaps for the first time on the PGA, I really found I was keeping it all in check.
“Sometimes you have to do something once to know you can do it again and again.”
**RSNG You’re such a well-liked player on the circuit. Is being likable in some way linked to being good at golf? **
JOAQUIN NIEMANN “I’m not sure the nice guys are always the ones that win [laughs]!
“In fact I know there are some players who like the idea of being in a battle, and who feed off that feeling of being an enemy. I can understand that as a form of motivation, but it doesn’t work for me.
“Personally, to have the respect of my peers is much more important. And while golf is an intense game where we are all against each other all the time, we are also battling ourselves, and generally we’re there to help each other out.
To be the first person from my country to do this is a massive thing and it really does fill me with joy
“Getting along does make life easier, for me, at least. I like a laugh and a joke and it’s very important for me to enjoy what I’m doing. With all the traveling involved I couldn’t do it from a point of conflict.”
RSNG How does it feel to be the first-ever golfer to come from Chile to have won a PGA Tour event?
JOAQUIN NIEMANN “To be the first person from my country to do this is a massive thing and it really does fill me with joy. I am very patriotic, very proud, and to do something for my country in this way is perhaps the most important part of it and my greatest achievement in life.
“It is a very emotional situation, and I am glad to have made my friends and family back home feel proud, as do I.”
RSNG Do you get back to Chile much? Do you relax much?
JOAQUIN NIEMANN “Yes, the schedule for any golfer on any tour is tough but there is enough space to get back there to have quality time with people.
“I think home comforts are vital for recharging batteries, and that’s very important. I always need downtime, I need space in the gym, I need some days where I don’t think about golf at all, and of course I need the thrill of sinking a long putt or firing a ball down the fairway.
“For me, everything that makes me the golfer I am is about tolerance and temperance – and by that I mean it’s understanding the ratios and the quantities that keep me focused but not tired.
“I have been in situations where golf has totally dominated almost every hour of my day, and it never ends up working for me. You need a break… from anything in life.”
I didn’t feel like my body was up to the difficult task and I really needed to make the most of relaxing in Santiago and just having a normal life for a while
RSNG When you won your second PGA Tour event at the Genesis Invitational in February 2022 you had just been on a real break from things, is that right?
JOAQUIN NIEMANN “That’s true. I went back home for a longer time than normal. I think my family, friends and girlfriend were a bit concerned at how much I was kicking back, but the truth is I didn’t feel like my body was up to the difficult task and I really needed to make the most of relaxing in Santiago and just having a normal life for a while. I saw parts of my beautiful country I hadn’t seen in a while and totally recharged my batteries.”
RSNG And when you came back, did you feel in top form?
JOAQUIN NIEMANN “[Laughs]. Very much so, yes. I think I shot 21 birdies that week at The Riviera Country Club, maybe I should go back home and party more often!
“I was able to shoot low rounds of back-to-back 63s on the Thursday and Friday and that gave me a three-shot lead. Collin [Morikawa] pushed me a lot closer on Sunday and I was happy to shoot 71.
“To get the trophy from Tiger Woods [the host of the event] at the end was amazing. It was a big win for me.”
WHAT NEXT? Find out what it takes to win the PGA Championship in this RSNG.com interview with Justin Thomas.