The Golf Life | JourneysJanuary 18, 2019

Joaquin Niemann: ‘I didn’t think I’d make it as a professional this fast’

Joaquin Niemann
Photo by Dom Furore

I come from a big family. I have three brothers and two sisters, but I’m the only golfer. They all tried, but they got bored. They like soccer.

There’s a picture of me before I could walk, and I was holding a plastic golf club. I started playing golf because of my dad. He just plays for fun. We lived inside a golf community in Santiago, Chile. Every day after school, I went and played. Now I’m 20, and I’ve never stopped.

MY PARENTS ARE GREAT ATHLETES. My mom played field hockey for Chile’s national team. It’s really popular in Chile. She jokes that she’s why I’m good at golf. My dad was a basketball player in college.

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I USED TO DO TRACK AND FIELD, BUT I DIDN'T LIKE IT. I did it because the school asked me to. I also played soccer. I was in a normal school but then changed to a school for athletes. I was in class from 8 to 11 and then went to the golf course to practice. Because of that school, I was able to fly around the world. I did classes online and traveled and played.

RELATED: Joaquin Niemann earns tour card in just eight starts as a professional

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ACADEMICS WERE NEVER MY THING. I was a troublemaker as a kid, but every teacher loved me. I never did anything really bad. I’d be taken out of class because I was talking too much, things like that. I liked sports and being outside better. In Chile, you can go to the mountains and the beach in the same day. Everything is close. There are lots of lakes, and the weather is like California.

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MY FAVORITE TRIP WAS GOING TO JAPAN. I was there with four teammates and a coach, playing in the Junior World Cup. That was one of the best experiences I had as an amateur. The people are really nice, the courses are good, and it was a cool culture. The only thing I didn’t like was the food, but I got through it. I went to Korea as a pro this year, thinking the food would be similar. But it was some of the best I’ve had. When you’re a pro, you get better stuff.

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I USED TO NOT LET MY SIBLINGS OR PARENTS FOLLOW ME IN TOURNAMENTS. I felt like I needed to focus because I’d get nervous and feel a lot of pressure when I played.

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WHEN I WAS 14, I WASN'T PLAYING VERY GOOD BECAUSE I WAS CARING ABOUT WHAT PEOPLE THOUGHT AND WHAT THEY WOULD SAY. Every time I played for my country, I struggled. I started working with my coach, Eduardo Miquel, and he helped me. He’s taught me to care about me, what I do, and to trust it. When I have a tough shot on a Sunday to get a good finish, I try to forget that I’m at the tournament, pretend I’m at the range and hit it with a normal swing. Now, I don’t care who follows me or who’s watching.

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I WAS GOING TO PLAY AT THE UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH FLORIDA, BUT I WANTED TO TURN PRO. I knew I was going to be there for only one year. The school asked me to take the English test. I really didn’t study. I did it fast and finished before anyone else. I was playing the U.S. Open when I got the results. I was with Claudio Correa. He’s from Chile, too. We were looking at the scores, and we couldn’t stop laughing. He was like, “How are you so stupid?” My score was low, so I couldn’t go to school. Honestly, I was happy. I just wanted to play golf.

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I QUALIFIED FOR THE MASTERS LAST YEAR BECAUSE I WON THE LATIN AMERICA AMATEUR. When I played the Masters, I didn’t know what to expect. I played a practice round with Sergio and some other guys, and they were really chill and supportive. Every time I play with those guys, I feel more like one of them.

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AFTER THE MASTERS, I TURNED PRO. My agent and Sergio helped a lot in that decision. I thought it was going to be different, that I was going to feel more pressure. But I feel the same. I played some of my best golf and got three top-10 finishes. A month later, after another top 10 at The Greenbrier, I earned my PGA Tour card. It was the best moment of my life. I felt . . . relief. I thought, The job is done. Now it’s time to enjoy.

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ONE OF THE BEST DECISIONS I MADE ON TOUR WAS HIRING AN ENGLISH-SPEAKING CADDIE. Learning English has been difficult, but talking to my caddie in English helps a lot. If I had hired a caddie who spoke Spanish, I would never get to practice my English.

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OF THE THINGS IN MY LIFE THAT HAVE CHANGED, ONE IS MY INSTAGRAM—I'VE GOTTEN A LOT MORE FOLLOWERS.
I follow all the golfers on Instagram: Rickie, Sergio, Tiger. I love cars, so I follow a lot of car pages. I like every type of car. I’m not mechanical or anything. I just love how they look. A goal of mine is to win on tour and buy a sports car.

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ON THE COURSE, I'M JUST THINKING ABOUT WHAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN ON THE NEXT SHOT. Sometimes I don’t know where I am. I try to feel like I don’t care, but I actually care a lot. I guess sometimes I look like I’m not happy, but that’s just me—that’s how I look. Believe me, I’m really happy out here.

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I'D LIKE TO SEE HOW I'D DO PLAYING WITH TIGER. I think I’d learn a lot. I’ve played one group behind him—at his tournament in Potomac, Md. It was crazy how many people were following him. Crazy. They say it’s hard to play in front of him because the fans try to get in front of Tiger. But playing behind him, you hear everything. The cheers were so loud. I’ve never heard anything like that on a golf course.

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I'M REALLY EXCITED FOR THIS YEAR. I don’t like to set goals for the future. I like to just go out, play and see what happens. But, eventually, I would like to win a major.

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I DIDN'T THINK I'D MAKE IT AS A PROFESSIONAL THIS FAST. I knew I’d get here. Even if it took to my last day of life, I wanted to get to the PGA Tour.

—with Keely Levins