Graniteville, South Carolina (April 22, 2017) – Can a junior golfer’s lowest moment in a 54-hole event provide the impetus for victory? The answer came this week, as Joaquin Niemann (67-70-67, 204) of Chile won the 2017 Junior Invitational at Sage Valley Golf Club by four strokes over Austin Eckroat (208) of Edmond, Oklahoma.
Niemann, the Junior Invitational’s second international champion (Sweden’s Marcus Kinhult won in 2015), earned the Junior Invitational’s prized Gold Jacket, which was presented by the defending champion, Eckroat, who closed with the low round of the day, 66, to make his presence felt. But it was not enough to rattle Niemann.
“This is awesome,” said Niemann of his victory. “I feel really good to win in my third and last (Junior Invitational). I’m very happy.”
MORE: Junior Invitational at Sage Valley Leaderboard | Photos | Full coverage
Garrett Barber of Stuart, Florida; Min Woo Lee of Australia; and Davis Shore of Knoxville, Tennessee all finished at 209, tied for third place.
Trailing Lee by a single stroke after two rounds, Niemann did not hit the gas until after a bogey on No. 3 – his second of just three blemishes all week – dropped him another shot behind Lee.
Birdies on 4 and 5, then 7, followed by 9, 10 and 11 vaulted Niemann five shots clear of Lee, who stalled during the same eight-hole sequence thanks to a trio of bogeys against just two birdies.
“I just kept making birdies and I was able to really enjoy the last 9 (holes),” recalled an elated Niemann, who entered the week as the No. 2 ranked junior according to the World Amateur Golf Ranking.
Niemann’s decisive round Saturday at Sage Valley may have been born out of the adversity he faced and ultimately answered near the end of Friday’s second round.
After beginning the Junior Invitational with 34 consecutive bogey-free holes, Niemann hitched a bad shot (into the water) on the 17th hole with a faulty decision (attempting to play the same nearly submerged ball out of the hazard) and the result was jolting triple bogey that cost him the lead.
Instead of allowing the unsightly triple to derail his last pass at Sage Valley, Niemann kept his chin up and arguably won the Junior Invitational on the next hole, when his 20-foot par-save on No. 18 erased any negative mojo.
“He played so well,” marveled Lee, the 2016 Junior Invitational runner-up. “When he was in a situation to make birdie, he did. He played well throughout. I just could not stop him.”
Following Friday’s second round, the Junior Invitational’s 54-player field was paid a visit by 2015 PGA Champion and former World No. 1, Jason Day, who shared some secrets of his swing and mental game with juniors and their parents. As part of the program, Lee actually outdrove his legendary countryman. All part of the annual charm and experience that is the Junior Invitational at Sage Valley.
“I will remember every day and everything from this week,” said Niemann, when asked what he’ll recollect about his three years of adventures at Sage Valley. “I will also remember Jason Day, of course, and every hole of this (Junior Invitational).”
The 54-hole Junior Invitational at Sage Valley Golf Club is widely recognized as one of the premier junior tournaments in the world. The prestigious event attracts many of the game’s top-ranked junior golfers on an annual basis.