The Old White TPC is a rare PGA Tour venue where Joaquin Niemann has some experience, and he put it to good use Thursday during his opening round at The Greenbrier.
Niemann closed out last year’s event in West Virginia with a 64 in the final round as an 18-year-old amateur, and now returning as a professional he did one better Thursday, carding seven birdies en route to a 7-under 63.
The Chilean started on the back nine and wasted little time, making birdies on five of his first eight and six of his first 10 holes. A closing birdie on No. 9 moved him one clear of Kelly Kraft among the morning wave. Webb Simpson moved two clear of Niemann in the afternoon with a 61.
“I made a couple good birdies in the start of the round,” Niemann told reporters. “After that, I thought I was going really low. My game was feeling really good and my putter was good. So all my game was good today.”
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Niemann won the Latin America Amateur this year, and he remained an amateur to play in the Masters. He turned pro in April, promptly finishing sixth at the Valero Texas Open in his pro debut. That was simply the first of three top-10s to date, as he also finished T-8 at Colonial and T-6 at the Memorial.
His result at Muirfield Village gained him special temporary membership, meaning Niemann can accept unlimited sponsor invites through the end of the season. He’s on the cusp of earning a full PGA Tour card for the 2018-19 season, a rare feat of bypassing Q-School or Web.com Tour Finals most recently achieved by Jordan Spieth (2013) and Jon Rahm (2016).
Niemann entered this week with 321 FedExCup points as a non-member. To earn a full card for next season, he has to accrue at least the equivalent of whichever player finishes No. 125 on the season-long points list after the Wyndham Championship. Last season, that mark was 365 points.