ATLANTA – That was quick.
Joaquin Niemann, playing the final round of The Tour Championship alone due to Brooks Koepka’s withdrawal on Saturday that left the field with 29 players, toured East Lake Golf Club in 1 hour, 53 minutes on Sunday.
That was pedestrian compared to the 1 hour, 29 minutes it took Wesley Bryan to play the final round of the 2017 BMW Championship, but Niemann did break the East Lake record set by Kevin Na – yes, Kevin Na – who played the final round of the 2016 Tour Championship in 1 hour, 59 minutes.
Niemann began at 11:40 a.m. ET and finished before the last group teed off. In his 26th and last event of the season, he shot 72 to finish at 4 over and well back of the leaders. In 26 events this year, he carded five top-5s and 13 top-25s.
“I didn’t know how fast I could get 18 holes, but on the front nine, I decided to play quick but not like crazy quick, not like rushing and hurrying up,” Niemann said. “But then they told me I did like just over an hour, I was like, ah, I’m just going to rush it and try to break the record. It was pretty good, the back nine.
“I am tired. It has been a long week, a long three or four weeks that I’ve been playing, and I wasn’t playing my best golf this week. I was in last place and wasn’t going to win. I was pretty far behind from the guys in front of me, so I was like, let’s make it fun and have fun.
“It was a lot of fun.”
Niemann’s wingman was longtime caddie, Gary “Animal” Matthews, who said he needed to lighten the load of the golf bag to make the trip.
“I would say it was, I don’t know, 25 pounds maybe. But definitely lighter than usual,” said Matthews, who caddied in a one ball for the first time. “He had three golf balls. He didn’t have the usual nine. He didn’t have a rain cover. He didn’t have any little instruments that we had. He only had one glove, five tees. Not much shakes and stuff like that in the bag.
“Umbrella was gone.”
Niemann’s sprint almost hit his pocketbook. As he walked into scoring, he saw Andy Pazder, the PGA Tour’s chief tournaments and competitions officer. Pazder said he needed to talk to Niemann and Matthews and both were fearing something was amiss, like they had to review a shot for a ruling or something.
“He said, ‘Listen, Joaquin, as a professional, you’ve disrespected the game, you’ve disrespected The Tour Championship. This is not how professionals act, and Gary, you’ve been out here a long time and you should know that and here is a fine for $10,000,” Matthews said.
“I look at him like, I was burning inside,” Niemann said. “I was going to say something and he’s like, ‘All right, forgive me. Before you say something, I was just kidding,’ I was like, ‘Oh, I hate you.’ He gave me a really hard time.”
Joaquin Niemann laughs with his caddie Gary Matthews after falling out of his shoe on the 8th hole during the final round of the Tour Championship in Atlanta. Photo by Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports
There were plenty of highlights. Niemann canned a 29-footer for birdie on the 15th.
Fans started to encourage the race to the finish. The ending, when Niemann said Matthews nearly collapsed to the ground.
“The crazy thing was he made double on 8, felt like it took us 20 minutes to play that hole and we were walking up to 10 and the guy that helps us out in the caddie area there said, ‘You’re at 1:03.’ So we were flying for nine holes,” Matthews said. “But the best thing of the whole thing was we got to No. 15 and the group that was behind us was (Stewart) Cink and (Hideki) Matsuyama and they were teeing off 8. That was pretty cool because we were trying to figure out how far we would be ahead of them. We were trying to beat them before they got to 10.”