Not that Joaquin Niemann needs extra motivation. Playing in the Masters is enough. In advance of this year’s tournament, though, the 24-year-old Chilean told GOLF.com that he’s feeling especially fired up.
“I think it’s going to be more fun knowing that they hate us,” Niemann said. “Then go to the majors and beat them.”
“Hate” is probably too strong a word. But it hints at a subplot to this Masters chapter as the world’s best make their way toward Augusta, Ga., for the first major of the year next week.
Niemann plays for LIV Golf, the rival circuit to the PGA Tour. He’s been banned from competing in Tour events. But like 17 of his LIV mates, he has been invited to the 2023 Masters, the first iteration of the event since last year’s rupture in the men’s pro game.
It’s not hard to imagine how this might put a charge into the air and inject a new dynamic into the Masters, creating a tournament within a tournament, of sorts, featuring stars from each side of the split.
That, anyway, is how some fans are bound to see it: PGA Tour vs. LIV Golf.
In an interview in Florida earlier this season, Niemann said that’s partly how he’s looking at it, too.
“Obviously, it’s going to be an individual tournament, not a team (event),” he said. “But we’re going to be feeling it, with the different players playing at the same time for their tour.”
This will be Niemann’s fourth crack at the Masters, his first having come in 2018 when he earned an invite to Augusta by winning the Latin American Amateur Championship. In his two tries since, in 2021 and 2022, he finished T40 and T35, respectively.
As it is for many, the Masters is close to Niemann’s heart. Last year, as he weighed the pros and cons of joining LIV, the tournament was top of mind. If he skipped to the Saudi-backed circuit, he knew there was a chance that the green jackets might not welcome him back.
Niemann was vacationing in Chile, in December, when Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley announced that qualified LIV golfers would not be kept out of the field. Niemann said he wasn’t shocked by the decision — “It was going to be a little bit dumb to leave so many good players out,” he said — but he was relieved.
Drifting off to sleep that night, he found himself looking forward to April.
“I was, like, I love it,” he said. “It’s going to be fun.”
Over the past year, in discussing the Tour/LIV divide, stalwarts on both circuits have echoed Michael Corleone, insisting that everything is strictly business. In their telling, any rifts in the game are professional, not personal. Different players made different career choices. Not everyone agrees. But there’s no bad blood.
All of which sounds nice, even if it isn’t true.
Niemann, in that sense, is refreshingly forthright. Last year, he said, as rumors swirled about impending defections, he sensed that he and others were getting the cold shoulder at some Tour events from a small handful of players and officials.
“That was the hardest part, just seeing how some players and then the people that worked (the tournaments), how they treated us before and after,” Niemann said.
Though it left a bad taste, Niemann said, it didn’t make him bitter. He harbors no hard feelings. If anything, he said, the experiences have sparked a healthy sense of competition, an undercurrent of Us vs. Them.
“I think there is a big rivalry right now between the Tour and LIV,” Niemann said. “I think there is a lot of players that — I don’t know if they don’t like us or they don’t like the decisions that we take — but it’s going to be fun.”
And not just at Augusta.
“Since they gave us the notice that we’re going to be able to play the majors, I was like, it’s going to be so much fun those four weeks,” he said. “Four weeks in the year against them, and try to beat them.”