CROMWELL, CONNECTICUT – JUNE 23: Joaquin Niemann of Chile plays a shot from a bunker on the 18th hole during the final round of the Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands on June 23, 2019, in Cromwell, Connecticut. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
By Brian Wacker
All that practice Joaquin Niemann was doing with a beach ball between his legs last week at TPC River Highlands, well, it looks to have paid off. The 20-year-old matched his best career finish on the PGA Tour with a tie for fifth at the Travelers Championship on Sunday.
More important, perhaps, is what the result might lead to for the formerly top-ranked amateur and 2018 Latin American Am champ.
In his second season on tour—technically he’s still a rookie after playing just a dozen tournaments last year as a non-member—Niemann has struggled mightily. In his first 20 starts of the year, he missed only six cuts and has netted just one top-25 finish before the Travelers.
This, following a 2018 that included a T-6 at the Memorial, T-5 at the Greenbrier and three other top-10 finishes, which helped the young phenom from Chile bypass the Web.com Tour and get his PGA Tour card by finishing greater than or equal to the top 125 on the 2016-’17 FedEx Cup points list through the Wyndham Championship as a non-members.
“It’s not the season I expected, but I know that my game is there,” Niemann said on Sunday. “I been playing good. I just need to be patient.”
It showed in the final round of the Travelers, where Niemann played bogey-free golf and posted four birdies en route to a 66. On Friday, he shot a 65 in the second round, to go with a pair of 69s in his other two rounds. His 11-under 269 was six strokes back of winner Chez Reavie.
Niemann’s use of the beach ball early in the week was to help create width between his knees during his swing to help hit shots higher. A big reason why Niemann succeeded on Sunday, however, came from a different part of his game: His putting. In the final round, he picked up 3.166 strokes gained/putting on the field. Comparatively, Niemann came into the week ranked 182nd in putting, losing almost 0.5 strokes to the field on the greens, which is why he says he turned to the Perfect Putter training aid for help.
“That helps me a lot to get a good read,” he said. “It’s all about the speed, also. Before, when I miss a putt, I always blame myself, like I was a bad putter. Now I know that I’m hitting a good putt, and if I miss it, it was probably because of the speed or it didn’t break much.”
Speaking of breaks, Niemann’s strong week could lead to an even bigger one. With the T-5, he jumped from 140th in the FedEx Cup standings, to 106th with less than two months before the Playoffs.
“I’m starting to feel really good with my game,” Niemann said. “The middle of the season this year I start struggling, and I was too worried about it. Now, I just try to enjoy it more again. Just go out there, try to hit good shots, and have fun.”
What’s more fun than a beach ball? A season-best result with a bright future on the horizon.