WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — The Chilean teenager sporting braces and a prime leaderboard position at the Greenbrier tamped down his jubilance.
The best round of Joaquin Niemann’s burgeoning professional career, a 7-under 63 fired Thursday morning, only made him wary of the damage others might be ready to inflict upon the Old White TPC.
“These guys are really good, so I know they are going to go low,” Niemann said.
Last year, he was the world’s top-ranked amateur when he received an exemption at the Greenbrier and tied for 29th at 5-under Now Neimann’s back, three months after turning pro at the still-green age of 19, and proving he belongs. Already this season he owns top-eight finishes at Valero, Fort Worth and The Memorial.
“I’ve been playing really good golf, and it feels great to be back here,” he said. “I just feel that I’m one of the youngest out here so I feel like I’ve got nothing to lose.”
Six-under after 10 holes, Niemann ended his round by birdying No. 9 thanks to a 98-yard approach shot he parked within 3 feet of the cup. He seemed most satisfied about avoiding bogeys on three par 3s.
He escaped the No. 3 bunker to set up a short putt, stroked home a 13-footer on the 15th hole and made an eight-footer at No. 18.
“The key for me today was my putter,” he said, “and the saves I made on the par 3s.”
An ‘old-school classy’ vibe
After finishing fifth at this event in 2017, Kelly Kraft opened with a first-round 64 Thursday.
Aside from playing precise golf, he’s developing an affinity for the Greenbrier Resort.
“It’s awesome — kind of like a throwback in time,” he said. “You’ve got all the crazy colors and the restaurants and you’ve got the casino downstairs.
“It’s just really classy. You don’t get that at a lot of resorts anymore, old-school classy.”
Bradley at 5-under
Keegan Bradley shot 65 after rolling in a 42-foot eagle put on the No. 12 par-5.
“That was one of my longest putts of the year,” he said. “That was awesome. It was one of those that was tracking the whole way, and it went right in the middle.”