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Niemann takes move to pro ranks in his stride

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Niemann takes move to pro ranks in his stride
FILE PHOTO: PGA golfer Joaquin Niemann tees off on the 6th hole during the first round of the John Deere Classic golf tournament at TPC Deere Run in Silvis, Illinois, U.S., July 12, 2018. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports/File Photo   -   Copyright  USA Today Sports(Reuters)
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By Andrew Both

(Reuters) – Chilean teenager Joaquin Niemann is hoping for a tournament victory and a spot on the Presidents Cup International team when he begins his first full season as a professional on the 2018-19 PGA Tour in October.

Niemann was not eligible to qualify for the PGA Tour playoffs that start this week, but can still reflect on a smooth transition to the professional ranks as he enjoys a well-earned break before gearing up for a busy campaign.

He says his early results as a pro were “way better” than he expected, and have instilled a belief in him that he just needs to keep on improving incrementally to have the career that he envisages.

“I thought (being a professional) was going to be like a big change but it didn’t really feel that. It was pretty much the same,” Niemann told Reuters after finishing equal 33rd at the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro on Sunday.

“(The courses) are a little longer than amateur golf but nothing crazy different, and I hit it long enough.”

Had Niemann played in the era before Tiger Woods his early results would have been hailed with great fanfare.

Woods, however, set the bar so high in his first few months as a professional that the achievements of more recent emerging talents have paled in comparison.

But Niemann, who was the number one ranked amateur in the world for nearly a year, had two top-10 finishes in his first four starts upon turning pro in April, and ended the season with six consecutive made cuts.

The softly-spoken 19-year-old from Santiago lacks the charisma of Woods, but his emergence from a continent where golf remains mostly a minor sport is significant from a marketing as well as a competitive aspect.

He would be a particularly valuable addition to next December’s International team for the Presidents Cup in Australia, adding diversity and youthful energy to the lineup.

The International team is comprised of players outside the United States and Europe. It is intended to be a “world” team though it usually consists mainly of Australians and South Africans.

“Of course it’s in my mind but I’ve just got to be patient and see what happens,” Niemann said of potentially making the Presidents Cup team.

Before that he is looking forward to a well-earned break.

“All my game feels really good right now. I just need to keep it up and try to be on top for next season,” he said.

Niemann is currently ranked 152nd in the world, which may seem low at first glance but is good considering he was outside the top 1500 when he turned professional.

“I don’t like to put goals,” he said when asked to state his targets for next season.

“I would like of course right away to win,” he added quickly.

(Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Toby Davis)

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