Joaquin Niemann eyes pro golf after U.S. Amateur loss to Braden Thornberry

USGA

Joaquin Niemann eyes pro golf after U.S. Amateur loss to Braden Thornberry

Amateur

Joaquin Niemann eyes pro golf after U.S. Amateur loss to Braden Thornberry

PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. – How’s this for luck?

Joaquin Niemann, the world’s top-ranked amateur, shot 3 under in 36 holes of stroke play to earn the sixth seed in match play at the U.S. Amateur. His opponent for Wednesday’s Round of 64 … Braden Thornberry, the 2017 NCAA individual champion and World No. 3, who earned his match-play spot via a 13-for-8 playoff Wednesday morning.

Niemann had heard about Thornberry’s stellar short game. He witnessed it for the first time in stroke play as the two were paired together, and then again Wednesday as Thornberry won, 2 up, to eliminate the 18-year-old Chilean.

“He’s got a really good short game,” Niemann said. “We played together three days. He made so many up and downs and he chipped in like three (times) maybe.”

Niemann led 1 up after the first hole and the match remained that way for much of the first nine. After a sloppy bogey on the par-4 10th, Niemann felt the momentum shifting. Thornberry won Nos. 12 and 13 to take his first lead of the day and then closed out the match with a 30-foot birdie make on the par-4 18th hole.

While Thornberry, who also is the defending Haskins Award winner and tied for fourth at the PGA Tour’s FedEx St. Jude Classic in June, will return for his junior season at Ole Miss, Niemann has all but made up his mind: he doesn’t plan to attend the University of South Florida after all.

Niemann was previously slated to join the Bulls roster this fall, but he didn’t score very well on the TOEFL exam, an English-language test required by USF.

“I didn’t do so well,” Niemann said. “I don’t know if I’m going to take it again because I just want to play golf. I got to talk with a computer and make an essay. It’s hard for me that I don’t speak good English.”

Making Niemann’s decision easier was the success he’s had this year. He won the Junior Invitational at Sage Valley in April, qualified for the U.S. Open at Erin Hills and was T-29 at the Greenbrier. He feels as if he’s ready to make the jump and plans to play second stage of Web.com Tour Q-School later this year. (He’s exempt because he’s ranked No. 1 in the WAGR.)

“I played the U.S. Open and saw how the best guys weren’t so far past me,” Niemann said. “I thought they’d be from another planet. … But I want to play more tournaments on the PGA Tour and see how it goes.”

Niemann’s plans to pursue pro golf is the second big hit for the South Florida program this summer. Won Jun Lee, another highly ranked 2017 recruit who also lost in the Round of 64 on Wednesday, also did not score high enough on the TOEFL and decided to sign with the University of Florida, which does not require the test.

Lee is eligible to compete for the Gators this fall. As for Niemann, he has likely played his last event as an amateur golfer.

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