LOS ANGELES – Joaquin Niemann’s reward for two days of strong play at the U.S. Amateur was an opening match against Braden Thornberry.
In what may have been his final event as an amateur, Niemann took the NCAA individual champion to the final hole before falling, 2 down, in the Round of 64 at Riviera.
Niemann earned the sixth seed in qualifying but faced off in the first round against Thornberry, who needed to survive a 13-for-8 playoff Wednesday morning.
Ranked No. 1 in the world, Niemann, 18, had signed to play college golf at the University of South Florida but now seems unlikely to ever set foot on a college campus.
Niemann, from Santiago, Chile, said he did not perform well on the TOEFL exam, which measures a person’s ability to use and understand English. He is planning to play Web.com Tour Q-School in October to gain status for next season.
“I feel really good,” he said.
Niemann qualified for the U.S. Open this year and tied for 29th at the Greenbrier Classic, where he shot a final-round 64.
“I played the U.S. Open and saw how the best guys weren’t so far past me,” he said. “I thought they’d be from another planet … but I want to play more tournaments on the PGA Tour and see how it goes.”
Thornberry had high praise for his opponent, with whom he also played during the first two rounds of stroke-play qualifying.
“He’s probably the best golfer I’ve ever played with, even at the St. Jude,” said Thornberry, who won the NCAA title in June and then tied for fourth at the Tour stop in Memphis.
“He’s a really fierce kid. He knows how golf works.”