The rise of Joaquín Niemann from top-ranked amateur to leading professional golfer has helped to drive significant growth of the sport in Chile.
The Chilean Golf Federation (CGF) can trace increased interest in golf back to 2015 when Niemann started to enjoy significant international success in the amateur ranks.
This combined with the Federation’s own work to drive interest in golf, such as staging the Latin American Amateur Championship (LAAC) in 2018, has led to Chile enjoying notable growth.
From 2015 to 2019, golf in Chile has experienced:
- 11% growth in rounds played (374,000 to 416,915)
- 160% growth in rounds played by golfers aged 18-23 (7,485 to 19,482)
- Over 2,800 new golfers registered, increasing active federated players by 12%
Highlighting the power of a top player in a particular territory, it was in 2015 when Niemann began his ascent. Together with Gabriel Morgan and Carlos Bustos, Nieman helped Chile win the South American Junior Championship. The Santiago-born player also won the first of his two IMG Academy Junior World Championships (USA) that year.
By 2017, aged only 18, Niemann won the Mark H McCormack Medal as the leading men’s player in the 2017 World Amateur Golf Ranking™ (WAGR™) – the first South American player to obtain this prestigious award. He made several appearances in professional events in 2017, including the US Open, and won three professional tournaments in his homeland.
“The boom in Chilean golf began in 2015,” says Felipe Bertin, President of the CGF. “Throughout this time, Joaquín has been a key player in achieving the improvement of national results and becoming a role model for all young golfers in the country.
“Since he was a little child, he always led the junior rankings in all categories. Due to that, the CGF always believed in him and supported him in his activities in Chile and abroad.
“Joaquín’s achievements as an amateur and later, as a professional, have helped young people become more involved in the game, learning that the path of commitment, discipline and perseverance lead to positive results.”
Exposure for golf
Fittingly, on home soil, Niemann rounded off his amateur career with victory in the LAAC at the Prince of Wales Country Club in Santiago in 2018. In doing so, he received an invitation to The Masters Tournament where his appearance helped further grow exposure for golf in Chile.
Having gained a foothold as a professional, Niemann achieved his first PGA Tour title in September 2019 winning A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier – becoming the first Chilean in history to win a Tour event and the youngest international Tour winner since 1923, aged 20. Today, the 22-year-old sits inside the top 30 of the Official World Golf Ranking.
Coupled with the work of the Federation, aided by support from The R&A over the years, his success has shined a light on golf in Chile.
For instance, the Federation worked hard to return the 2018 Chilean Open to the PGA Tour Latinoamérica calendar and the event has contributed to activating a new focus of attention and motivation for local golf.
This is aided by Niemann’s presence on the PGA Tour circuit. According to Chilean media, prime time news programmes never previously mentioned golf, except for Tiger Woods, and then only exceptionally. Today, Niemann is followed regularly.
The main radio shows also dedicate time to Niemann when he is playing on the PGA Tour. Influencers and celebrities also play golf and post their golf outings regularly, an occurrence unknown before Niemann.
Digital readership increases 30% when content includes Niemann, as opposed to readership of other sports. The only parallel to this in Chile is when Marcelo Rios became the No. 1 ranked ATP singles player in 1998.
“Golf is cool,” adds Felipe. “The increasing attention for golf is recent for Chile and we are ready to continue promoting and developing the game in this segment. Cleary Joaquín playing on the PGA Tour every week has a huge impact in the growth we see in the game nowadays.”
Golf Channel Latin America has also helped Niemann to be known through the region in Latin America, meaning not only Chilean children want to aspire to be like him, but also youngsters from Colombia, Peru and elsewhere.
Niemann is also a strong driving force behind Chile’s Junior Tour (GolfAction). Donating his prize from the Birdies for Love programme to GolfAction after winning at The Greenbrier, the funds have been put to good use. The Joaquín Niemann Invitational, a tournament that provides players with the opportunity to qualify to an American Junior Golf Association event, has been established.
Felipe concludes, “In the not too distant future, I believe that we can be very close to ensuring that golf can be seen and played by an even larger number of people. Joaquín holds great responsibility for that.”