Before Joaquin Niemann left for LIV, he discussed wins and goals — and LIV
Joaquin Niemann stood on the back end of the 18th tee at the Old Course, making one-handed arcs with his driver, subconsciously finding the bottom of the swing, brushing the grass with effortless precision. He was on the final hole of a practice round ahead of the Open Championship, playing a match with Sergio Garcia, Abraham Ancer and Mito Pereira. There was nothing speedy about these practice sessions but things really ground to a halt here, at No. 18.
First, players had to wait for the green to clear at the drivable par-4 finisher. Then they had to take photos on the Swilcan Bridge, shuffling in playing partners and life partners and different iterations of coaches and managers and family members. Then they had to study every contour around the front of the iconic green, envisioning a scenario in which they’d get up and down for birdie to win the tournament. It would be tough to design a par-4 with a longer wait.
All that is to say that Niemann had time to kill as he stood at the back of the tee box. So when I mentioned to him in that moment that I wanted, in the next few weeks, to sit down for a Q&A to go in the pages of GOLF Magazine, he glanced around. What about right now?
I say this by way of introduction, because without it the following interview is notably outdated. Here’s a peek behind the curtain at GOLF Magazine-slash-GOLF.com: Often we’ll wait for the magazine to arrive in subscribers’ mailboxes before posting those mag-exclusive stories online. Given lag times between reporting, editing, laying out pages and getting the magazine ready for printing and shipping, certain details can change. In this case, parts of an interview I conducted with Niemann in late July became obsolete by late August, at which point LIV announced its newest signees, Niemann among them.
So why run the interview online at all? (We didn’t, for a while, as we mulled this question.) For starters, because we only chatted briefly about LIV, right near the end, and there’s plenty of insight to be gleaned from the rest of the 23-year-old’s commentary. Next, because I think Niemann was telling the truth, if oversimplifying — at this point in the summer he still considered the PGA Tour his future. I believe that, at least. We’d chatted about it at the U.S. Open just a few weeks prior. “If I were 40, maybe it would be different,” he said then. He still wasn’t 40 by the Open. He aspired to play against the best players in the world and to be World No. 1. That’s the main reason I still wanted to run the interview: It represents the reality of the day we chatted. It’s a snapshot. It’s a moment in time. It’s an artifact from a professional golf summer in which allegiances shifted week-to-week and day-to-day. It’s a reminder that none of this was set in stone.
We’ve been in brief contact since the decision; I wanted to add to this interview with some fresh context. We haven’t been able to connect. Perhaps we’ll hear more from Niemann at some point, and I think doing so would be insightful. This wasn’t an easy decision for him, after all.
That’s far too much context for what was intended as a cheery interview with a popular young PGA Tour star. So here we are. To the 18th tee at the Old Course with Joaquin Niemann!
Dylan Dethier: I’m curious. Do you remember the first time we did an interview?
Joaquín Niemann: [Pauses, thinks]
DD: It was at Mayakoba, for the cover of GOLF. Our “rising stars” issue. It was November 2018 — you, Sam Burns, Cameron Champ.
JN: Oh, yeah! Of course I remember. I still sign a lot of those magazines. People bring them to tournaments and ask me to sign the little jump I did [on the cover].
DD: You were about to turn 20 that week. Do you feel like a different player now than you were then?
JN: Way different, I think. I’m a lot more experienced. More like a veteran. [Laughs] But not actually a veteran. There’s a big learning process — adjustments you make every year and even every week, especially weeks like these [at the Open Championship], when everything is so different.
DD: Different because it’s a course you’ve never seen? Because links is such a different style of play?
JN: A different style, so you have to find a way to be more efficient with practice. And that’s good for me. Sometimes I try to get too close to perfection, overthink too much, plan out how I want to feel on the golf course, how I want to hit shots. When really I just need to have fun out here and focus once I’m getting ready to hit my ball. It’s more like listening to how I feel, and however I get to that feeling, however I feel over a certain shot, just go with that. Like, sometimes I try to manage everything from the outside, instead of getting here and going, “Okay, I’m just going to let it be.”
DD: When you say you were trying to make too much of a plan, does that mean getting too technical?
JN: No, never too technical. I’ve never really been technical. I just sometimes probably get focused on, like, the exact trajectory that I want to hit. And sometimes when that doesn’t go like I wanted it to, I just — I don’t freak out, but I really try to find a way to fix it. Now, obviously, I still try to get to those trajectories, but when they’re not there, I just try to find a way to survive.
DD: Who’s helped you with that process?
JN: My coach, Eduardo [Miquel].
DD: How about getting comfortable on Tour? Who has helped you with that?
JN: That just comes from experience. The more you’re out here, you see that every week there’s something different [about your game]. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad. And you adjust to that.
DD: What has been your proudest PGA Tour moment to date?
JN: Winning the  Genesis. That was the proudest moment, by far.
DD: What made it so special?
JN: I mean, the first thing is that it’s Tiger’s tournament. That was pretty awesome. And then the fact that all my friends were there, waiting for me when I finished. We stayed together in a house — the same group of friends who’ve been doing 90 percent of the weeks out here with me.
All I want to be is No. 1 in the world. So I guess what I want at the end of the day is just to make a lot of birdies.
DD: That group includes Carlos Ortiz, Sebastián Muñoz and Mito Pereira, right?
JN: Yeah. And sometimes Sergio [García]. That made it special. And it made the week a lot easier too. It helps to have a couple of years’ experience to feel better on the course. That helped me out a lot. So I was feeling better on the course and off the course because, sometimes, going back to just a hotel room, just a square bed in a square room with nothing really to do…
DD: What do these guys mean to you? They became some of your closest friends these last few years.
JN: Yeah, I’ve built this friendship over the last two years with Sebastián, Mito and Carlos, and with Sergio for four years, ever since I played my first tournament on Tour. They’ve been awesome, and it’s just so much fun. I couldn’t ask for anything better.
DD: So what’s it going to be like now that at least some of your squad — Carlos and Sergio — have jumped to the Saudi circuit and aren’t going to be on the PGA Tour?
JN: It sucks. It sucks that we made such a nice friendship to just then be apart because of different reasons. I mean, they have to make their own decisions, but, yeah, we won’t be together as much. Still, I think we have a good enough relationship where we can also hang out, go on vacation or something like that, all of us. That’s how strong our relationship is.
DD: How have you dealt with the rumors of you going to the LIV tour?
JN: There’s been a lot of rumors, especially the week Carlos left. People thought I was going to leave, too. I don’t know where those rumors come from. It kind of sucks, but, yeah, you see sometimes who your real friends are and who are not.
Ed note: At the LIV-Chicago event in September, Niemann was asked how he felt about his decision to sign with LIV. “Once I got here, I realized it was the best decision I could have made,” he said. “Everybody here is talking about the team format that I always grew up playing when I was in Chile. My junior career I always played team events, and it was something which really drives me to be a better person, a better golfer and push the limits on the golf course. I’ve been feeling great, how I wanted to improve every day.”
DD: What are your goals for the near future?
JN: All I want to be is No. 1 in the world. That comes from playing well in majors, winning tournaments and shooting low scores. So I guess what I want at the end of the day is just to make a lot of birdies. So many things change every week: how you feel, what the situation is. One week you can be pretty free, pretty patient. And some weeks it can get not easy. I need to work on playing well on those weeks where I don’t feel my best.
DD: Do you feel you’re making progress toward that goal? You’re currently ranked in the top 20.
JN: Yeah, my ranking has been going up every year, and that’s good. You want to be playing your best every week, but it’s tough. Sometimes you’re thinking about it — whether you’re going to reach your goals or not. But I think you just have to be patient and, like they say, trust the process, keep getting a little better. If you can do that, once you look back, you’re going to be on top of the world, and you won’t even notice how you got there.
Sergio García, on the 18th tee: “Joaco! You’re up!”