Golf has been described as a ‘good walk spoiled,’ but there wasn’t much walking by Joaquin Niemann in the final round of the Tour Championship in Atlanta on Sunday — the Chilean was running.
Under the baking-hot sun of a September Georgia afternoon, Niemann, his South African caddie Gary Matthews and a group of scorers, could be seen scrambling from tee to green, often chuckling and high-fiving as they went.
“I used to run a lot in high school,” said Niemann to the media afterwards, “But now, I hate it. I just did it for fun and it was pretty fun.”
READ: The art of caddying – what makes a good golf companion?
Niemann began the day in last place on the leaderboard. It should have been a 30-man field, but the withdrawal of the injured Brooks Koepka on Saturday meant that there was an odd number of players and so he teed off first, alone.
With no hope of winning the $15 million-dollar first prize, he decided to try and write his own piece of unofficial history — the fastest recorded round at this tournament.
In 2016, the American golfer Kevin Na played a round at East Lake in one hour and 59 minutes, but Niemann wasn’t sure that he was going to attempt to beat it until halfway through the day.
He told the media afterwards, “It has been 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, so I was like, ‘Let’s make it fun.'”
Following alongside with a wooden scoreboard were two teenage brothers, Tyler and Evan Henley. “Me and my brother heard the word ‘run,'” Tyler told CNN Sport. “And then he just took off. On the back nine, he finished five holes in about 20 minutes. He just bucked it. He just looked back at us and said, ‘We’re beating this record.'”
After the round, the brothers were flushed to the face and trying to catch their breath. “I wrestle,” said Tyler, “so I’m in the best condition I’ll be in, but it still wore me out!”
Anticipating the record attempt, Niemann’s caddie Gary Matthews said he tried to lighten the bag that he’d be running with all day. He packed just three balls instead of nine, only one glove, no rain cover, and no umbrella. He estimated the load to be around 25 pounds.
Niemann ended up playing so fast that when he was on the 15th hole, he noticed that the group behind him — Stewart Cink and Masters champions Hideki Matsuyama — were only just teeing off at the eighth hole.
Overstating their record-attempt for comedic effect, Matthews joked about the crowd’s reaction to it: “Everyone was clapping, they got the gist of what we were doing. If ten people were running [alongside us] down 18, it felt like Tiger’s time here!” He was referring to the 2018 Tour Championship, when Tiger Woods was mobbed by thousands of fans on the final hole.
When Niemann tapped in for par on the 18th hole and a tournament score of 4-over, the clock stopped at one hour and 53 minutes, a new — if unofficial — record. But as he walked off the green, milking the applause, not everyone was amused; 12-time PGA tour winner Paul Azinger described it as a “meaningless record” on the Golf Channel, and in the scorer’s tent, Niemann realized that his antics might have landed him in trouble.
Waiting for him was PGA Tour Executive Andy Pazder, who informed Niemann and his caddie that they had disrespected the game and disrespected The Tour Championship. Their punishment was going to be a $10,000 fine. Before the Chilean had a chance to respond, Pazder broke the tension and revealed that he was only joking.
When CNN asked Niemann if perhaps there is anything about speed golf that might benefit a player, he stated definitively that there was not. “No, it definitely doesn’t help. I think it helps for your health, but it doesn’t make you play better.” Would he do it again? “No, I don’t think so,” he said, before adding: “Hopefully not.”