Tue, Oct 15, 2019

It’s getting buried because of football season, because it’s the fall portion of the PGA Tour’s schedule and because we’re not as familiar with Joaquin Niemann as, say, Matthew Wolff. But Niemann’s win at A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier on Sunday was historic for all kinds of reasons. 

First and foremost, Niemann is 20. He won’t be 21 for two months. The list of golfers who have won a PGA Tour event before turning 21 is eye-opening and awe-inspiring. It includes Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Jordan Speith, Matthew Wolff, Gene Sarazen, Raymond Floyd, Horton Smith, Seve Ballesteros and Rory McIlroy.

This is a big deal. Yes, this was Niemann’s 44th start on the PGA Tour, but it’s not as if he hasn’t played exceptionally leading up to this, either. He has nine career top 10s and is up to No. 50 in the world. He’s a stud, and studs shoot 64s on Sundays at professional events to lap fields.

“Yeah, normally I’m not really like too excited any time,” said Niemann after his six-stroke victory over Tom Hoge. “I normally like never do like fist pump and kind of those things.

“The emotions in that moment on the last couple holes was just crazy. I was just thinking on the first win I made when I was a kid and I was dreaming on this moment. So just make those putter on the last three holes was unbelievable. I couldn’t resist it. It wasn’t me. I just fist pump.”

You know, dreaming on this moment as a kid an entire four years ago.

Only time will tell if Niemann has even a fraction of the career the 20-year-olds before him went on to have, but the numbers say he’s on the right path. Niemann finished 23rd in strokes gained from tee to green last season. The season before that, he didn’t have enough rounds to qualify, but his numbers that year would have been good for the top 10 (alongside Tiger Woods and Tommy Fleetwood). 

After playing in the 2018 Masters as an amateur, Niemann turned professional and went on to finish in the top 10 in three of his first five starts. He was among a group that included Jon Rahm and Jordan Spieth as players who earned their cards through sponsor exemptions, coincidentally, at Greenbrier a year ago.

All the data we have on him to this point is that if he putts decently, he’s going to contend. If he putts great like he did at Greenbrier, he’s probably going to win — sometimes by six strokes.

I’ve been screaming about Niemann for a year on my podcast. That he slips through the cracks when we talk about young stars. We’re constantly talking about Wolff and Viktor Hovland and Collin Morikawa (all have earned it), but sometimes even guys like Bryson DeChambeau, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas get run as “young” stars. Others even throw Rickie Fowler in the mix. All of this is deserved based on achievement — and those guys have done far more than Niemann to this point — but to put this into perspective for you, Fowler was 10 when Niemann was born. 

The Chilean has a bright decade or two in front of him. He should be talked about in a different way than we talk about DeChambeau and others. He’s far younger and far more green, and his Sunday 64 and win at Greenbrier were reminders of just how good he’s going to be.

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