GRANITEVILLE – Joaquin Niemann searched for the right word to describe his performance Thursday in the opening round of the Junior Invitational at Sage Valley.
Finally, he settled on “motivation.”
Niemann, second in the latest World Amateur Golf Ranking, shot a bogey-free 67 in the first round at Sage Valley Golf Club to share the lead. Cameron John, 17, of Australia is the co-leader after making six birdies against one bogey.
It is Niemann’s best start at the prestigious tournament that includes the best junior players not already in college. In two previous trips to the Junior Invitational, the amateur from Chile tied for 10th in 2015 and tied for 24th in 2016.
Thus, his motivation to play well this week.
“The last two years I didn’t play so well so that gave me more … motivation to come back and play good golf,” Niemann, 18, said. “I finally made a good run on this golf course and we’ll see what happens the next two days.”
After making birdie on the opening hole, a par-4, Niemann dominated the par-5 holes at Sage Valley. He birdied each of them.
“The key was hitting the fairway,” he said. “Then I have a shot of getting to the green. I hit really good second shots.”
After birdies at Nos. 4, 8 and 10, Niemann hit two good shots on the last par-5 hole, No. 15. But a mediocre chip shot left him 20 feet for birdie.
No problem, as he drained that for his fifth and final birdie of the round.
Including Niemann and John, 15 players are in red figures. Kaito Onishi of Japan is alone in third with 4-under 68, while three other golfers are tied for fourth at 2-under 70. Defending champion Austin Eckroat headlines a large group at 1-under 71.
While Niemann is happy to be playing this week, he has been really close to playing in the area during the first full week of April. Twice he has come close to winning the Latin America Amateur Championship, which would give him a spot in the Masters Tournament.
In 2016, he lost by two shots to eventual winner Paul Chaplet, who is also in this week’s field. This year, he lost a playoff to good friend Toto Gana.
“Just one shot, I was really close to getting in the Masters,” Niemann said of this year. “I’ll be patient and wait until it’s my turn.”
Niemann was able to spend much of Masters Week in Augusta with Gana. He went to the tournament Tuesday through Saturday.
Naturally, he is “motivated” to return.
“I went and watched them play and it’s really amazing,” he said of the Masters. “It’s my goal to be there next year playing.”
Reach John Boyette at (706) 823-3337 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Junior Invitational at Sage Valley
Sage Valley Golf Club
Par 72, 7,437 yards
67-Joaquin Niemann, Cameron John
70-Cole Hammer, Adrien Pendaries, Brandon Gillis
71-Matthew Wolff, Davis Shore, Jacob Bergeron, Min Woo Lee, Garrett Barber, Austin Eckroat, Noah Goodwin, Trent Phillips, Jack Trent
72-Wilson Furr, Karl Vilips, Eugene Hong, Sean Maruyama
73-John Pak, Trey Winstead, John Axelsen, Travis Vick, Paul Chaplet, Michael Sanders
74-Max Schmitt, Mason Nome, Reese Ramsey, Eddy Lai, Kyle Vance, Brandon Mancheno, Aden Ye, Won Jun Lee
75-Fred Lee, Alejandro Aguilera, Kaiwen Liu, Ricky Castillo, Jeewon Park, Rayhan Thomas, Thomas Mulligan, Noah Norton, Falko Hanisch
76-Khavish Varadan, Walker Lee
77-Patrick Welch, Kristoffer Reitan
78-Justin Kim, Nicholas Lyerly
79-Matias Honkala, Garrick Higgo
Second-round tee times
8:30 a.m. - Edgar Catherine, Ryan Gerard, Jonathan Goth-Rasmussen
8:40 - Marcus Svensson, Garrick Higgo, Matias Honkala
8:50 - Justin Kim, Nicholas Lyerly, Kristoffer Reitan
9:00 - Patrick Welch, Walker Lee, Khavish Varadan
9:10 - Falko Hanisch, Noah Norton, Thomas Mulligan
9:20 - Rayhan Thomas, Jeewon Park, Ricky Castillo
9:40 - Kaiwen Liu, Alejandro Aguilera, Fred Lee
9:50 - Won Jun Lee, Aden Ye, Mason Nome
10:00 - Reese Ramsey, Max Schmitt, Brandon Mancheno
10:10 - Kyle Vance, Eddy Lai, Michael Sanders
10:20 - Paul Chaplet, Travis Vick, John Axelsen
10:30 - Trey Winstead, John Pak, Sean Maruyama
10:50 - Eugene Hong, Karl Vilips, Wilson Furr
11:00 - Jack Trent, Trent Phillips, Noah Goodwin
11:10 - Austin Eckroat, Min Woo Lee, Jacob Bergeron
11:20 - Garrett Barber, Davis Shore, Matthew Wolff
11:30 - Brandon Gillis, Cole Hammer, Adrien Pendaries
11:40 - Kaito Onishi, Cameron John, Joaquin Niemann
84-Ryan Gerard, Edgar Catherine