Cameron John, Joaquin Niemann share early lead at Sage Valley


GRANITEVILLE, S.C. – Two years ago, Cameron John did a Q&A with Golf Victoria, and when asked what his favorite part of the game was, the Australian answered: “Putting, because there is no better feeling than losing sight of the ball while you’re on the green.”

Fast forward to Thursday at Sage Valley Golf Club and the now-17-year-old Aussie showed just why he loves the flatstick. He drained six birdies, most from medium to long range, en route to an opening-round, 5-under 67.

“I feel like I made 1,000 feet of putts today,” said John, who shares the lead with Chile’s Joaquin Niemann at the Junior Invitational at Sage Valley, considered one of the most prestigious junior tournaments in the world.

Just how good is this event? John, whose notable victories the last two years include the Scottish Amateur and Argentina Amateur, is ranked 141st in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. That’s only ranks 13th in this 54-player field.

The highest-ranked player teeing it up this week at Sage Valley? That would be Niemann, who is ranked second in the world, behind only Stanford senior Maverick McNealy.

The 18-year-old Niemann birdied his first hole, holed four more birdies and never made a mistake in his opening round. And when he got into trouble, like after poor pitch shots on Nos. 6 and 15, his putter, like John, bailed him out.

“I finally made a good run on this course,” said Niemann, whose previous best round in six previous trips around Sage Valley was 73.

Niemann’s credentials are impressive. Last year, the University of South Florida signee won a second straight title at the IMG Academy Junior World Championships, and in January he lost in a playoff to fellow countryman and good friend Toto Gana at the Latin America Amateur. (He traveled to Augusta National earlier this month to watch Gana play in the Masters.)

And last Sunday, Niemann won the AJGA TaylorMade-Adidas Junior at Innisbrook Resort’s Copperhead Course in record fashion, setting a tournament record and winning by eight shots.

“Yeah I played really good,” Niemann said with a smile. “Really good golf.”

That play continued Thursday for Niemann, who will now be grouped with John and USC signee Kaito Onishi in the final group for Friday’s second round.

For those following the action in person, expect a putting clinic.

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