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2020 Mayakoba Golf Classic: Joaquin Niemann 'fighting' for Rafita

Joaquin Niemann in 1st round of 2020 Mayakoba Golf Classic
Chile's Joaquin Niemann says he is ‘fighting’ for his ailing infant cousin Rafita this week at the PGA Tour’s Mayakoba Golf Classic and planning to make another sizable contribution to the 1-month-old’s care.

Chile’s Niemann plays with extra incentive as he shoots 5-under 66 to share 2nd place, 1 stroke behind Scotland's Russell Knox

Two Latin American players were near the top of the leaderboard Thursday after the first round of the PGA Tour’s Mayakoba Golf Classic in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, and one of them is playing with a special incentive.

Argentina’s Emiliano Grillo and Chile’s Joaquin Niemann shot 5-under 66s at El Camaleon Golf Club to share second place with American Tom Hoge, one stroke behind leader Russell Knox of Scotland. No Latin player has won in the 13 past editions of the Mayakoba event. Mexico’s Carlos Ortiz, a runner-up last year to American Brendon Todd, was among a group at 67 that included Todd (scores).

Grillo and Niemann could contend through the weekend, if history is a guide.

Grillo, 28, is 17-for-17 in rounds of par or better at El Camaleon Golf Club. He posted top-10 finishes at Mayakoba in 2016 (T-10) and 2017 (T-9). Niemann, 22, has recorded top-20 finishes in three of his past four starts. Each has won once on the PGA Tour.

Niemann has extra motivation this week: He has committed his paycheck from the $7.2 million event to support his 1-month-old cousin Rafita Calderon, who has been diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy, a rare genetic disease affecting the central nervous system. Niemann donated $152,450 last week from his play at the RSM Classic to Calderon’s care.

“It’s always extra motivation trying to play for him and get some more money for him,” said Niemann, who played his final seven holes in 5 under. “[The support] is big for me and for my family in Chile. Having all the support from all the people here on Tour is really amazing, and also from Mexico.

“The tournament, they’re helping me a lot to tell a little bit more of the story of Rafita, and I’m happy for all the support of the players. We’re fighting for him.”

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