CHARLOTTE – Earlier this year, Joaquin Niemann held a No. 1 world golf ranking but the 19-year-old was ranked 1,543 in the world two weeks ago when he prepared to tee it up at the PGA Tour Valero Texas Open.
So why the drop?
Niemann, who is from Chile, was the top amateur golfer in the world for almost a year before he decided to turn professional. He began his career over 1,500 spots from the top of the world pro rankings last month.
Niemann received a sponsor’s exemption into the Valero Texas Open, and after making the cut in his professional debut, he birdied his final three holes to finish at 12-under par for the tournament and in sixth place. His first payday was $223,200 and he jumped 903 spots to 640th in the world rankings.
Niemann will look to move farther up the rankings this week in Charlotte when he competes in the Wells Fargo Championship at the Quail Hollow Club. The tournament starts May 3 and concludes May 6. Niemann tees No. 1 at 1:50 p.m. May 3 and he goes off No. 10 at 8:40 a.m. May 4.
Niemann said he had accomplished everything he could as an amateur and was ready to compete against the best players in the world.
“It gave me a lot of confidence,” he said of his pro debut. “I feel really comfortable with where I am. I was ready to be a pro.”
Niemann said he takes the same approach to golf now as he did as an amateur.
“It has been pretty much the same,” he said. “If I played good as an amateur and what I was doing, I just want to keep it the same.’’
Niemann said the layout at Quail Hollow Club fits his game, and that keeping the ball in the fairway will be key this week.
“I like tree-lined courses, and San Antonio was like that,” Niemann said. “I like to hit low drivers. This course is really long. You have to fade, you have to draw, you have to hit all of those shots. This week it is going to be key to be straight with the driver. Hitting fairways is one of the strengths of my game. This course is really long, so you don’t want to hit 5-irons from the rough.’’
Niemann grew up watching Tiger Woods, who is back in Charlotte for the first time since 2012, but the 19-year-old has never played a round of golf with Woods. Niemann did meet him at an amateur tournament several years ago.
“(Woods) played ping-pong with us. It was fun,” Niemann said. “I hope I can play with him on the weekend. It would be nice.”