Joaquin Niemann of Chile entered the final round of this weekend’s TOUR Championship at Atlanta’s East Lake Golf Course second from the bottom on the leaderboard, roughly one jillion shots behind leader Patrick Cantlay, who enjoyed a two-stroke lead on the field at 20-under. For a player in Niemann’s spot this would ordinarily mean a nice early start for a quick and pointless jaunt around the course, the golf elements of which would essentially be a formality. But the guy who under normal circumstances would’ve been Niemann’s Sunday playing partner, Brooks “Brooksy” Koepka, who’d also played his way to the very bottom of the leaderboard, withdrew midway through his round Saturday, citing a wrist injury. This development left Niemann all alone for the first tee-time, meaning there would be nary a soul on the course ahead of him, and therefore no one to slow him down.
Some golfers might consider this an opportunity for an even more leisurely, meditative round, but not Niemann. For Joaquin Niemann, a no-stakes solo Sunday means an opportunity to chase the record for fastest round in the tournament’s history. And when we say “chase,” buddy, what we mean is chase. Niemann was not screwing around!
The unofficial but generally accepted record for fastest round was set by Kevin Na, who pioneered the Golf But Sprinting approach to East Lake in 2016 en route to a final round played in just one hour and 59 minutes. The circumstances were largely identical: Na’s playing partner, then-top ranked Jason Day, withdrew prior to the start of Sunday’s final round, and Na was comfortably in last place, with nothing much to play for. Na’s caddy, a sweat-drenched man named Kenny Harms, recalled running only the downhill holes on the front nine, but with the two-hour mark within reach “on the back, we ran everything.” I don’t think I have ever even played nine holes in under two hours, so blazing around all 18 holes in 119 minutes is, to me, a downright legendary achievement, worthy of so much more acclaim than shooting 20 under par. You can keep your filthy birdies and eagles. Give me a player who can shoot a 70 while maintaining the foot speed of a sub-four-hour marathon.
Back to Niemann: Our hero shot par across his first seven holes Sunday, before double-bogeying the par-four eighth. But real glory was not to be found in a low score, and Niemann eventually found himself sprinting down the 14th fairway with a very realistic shot at a new speed record, and with Na out there in the field, powerless to stop him. Niemann’s hopes were almost dashed by an equipment malfunction, but if anything the lesson here might have been to spend a little less time trying to get things perfect and a little more time hitting that dang golf ball!
Niemann made it to the par-three 15th with the slimmest of leads over Na’s historic speed run, and would need to play clean to take the crown from a guy who birdied the last four holes back in 2016, and at a dead sprint. Could our man clutch it?
Yes! Niemann birdied on 15 to extend his advantage, survived a bogey on the par-four 16th, and chugged his way through pars on the final two holes to finish his round in a blistering and floridly insane 113 minutes, shattering Na’s utterly worthless but extremely bitchin’ and badass speed record by a whopping six minutes. I am exhausted and elated just from having watched a portion of this!
I have no idea what happened to or for any other player on the course Sunday. Are they even done yet? Who even is Patrick Cantlay? The vulgarities of playing for the lowest score now only disgust and enrage me. Do not even think of talking to me about any golf event that does not involve a player sprinting the full length of an 18-hole course. Slow play is for philistines.