NEWTON, Kan. – Defending U.S. Amateur Public Links champion Jordan Niebrugge, of Mequon, Wis., didn’t exactly ease into his title defense at Sand Creek Station Golf Course.
Niebrugge spent the week ahead of the championship competing in the PGA Tour’s John Deere Classic, on a sponsor’s exemption. Not only did Niebrugge make the 36-hole cut, he carded rounds of 66-69 on the weekend to finish tied for 27th at 10 under par. He shot a 3-over-par 74 in the first round of stroke-play qualifying at the APL after an eight-hour ride last night – Niebrugge arrived in Newton, Kan., from Silvis, Ill., at about midnight.
Jordan shouldn’t have any excuses about being tired, said Rod Niebrugge, his father. There was no sitting around an airport with delayed flights or missed connections. He slept while his mother [Judy] and I drove.
The valuable experience Niebrugge gained from his first PGA Tour start [he also missed the cut in the Masters in April] more than made up for the lack of on-course preparation for the APL, in his mind.
I got in a lot of practice while I was there, said Niebrugge, 20, a rising junior at Oklahoma State. I gained a lot of confidence from the week and a lot of knowledge from the other players. I played practice rounds with Johnson Wagner and Harris English, who have both won on Tour. I found out some things I need to work on and what parts of my game are pretty good.
About 40 family and friends followed Niebrugge at the John Deere, some from the Milwaukee area and some from Teutopolis, Ill., where his parents grew up.
Jordan was born in St. Louis, where we lived for about 10 years, said Rod Niebrugge. We had friends from there come up, too. It was a great opportunity for him; the more times you’re in a situation, the more comfortable you get with it.
Oklahoma State assistant coach Brian Guetz, who is caddying for Niebrugge in the APL, walked the course on Sunday with Niebrugge’s Cowboy teammate Stratton Nolen, of Austin, Texas, who is also in the field and opened with a 5-over 76.
I didn’t know where the ball was going off my clubface, and that’s pretty big out here, said Niebrugge, who estimated that he hit only four or five fairways. When I was able to get it in the fairway, I was able to hit it pretty close. I just wasn’t trusting it, not having seen the course before. Tomorrow, I will know where the balls are going to land and have a little more depth perception out there. I’ll be good to go tomorrow and see if we can shoot something lower.
Alaska Man Makes First USGA Start at 57
Bill Arnold, of Anchorage, Alaska, who turns 58 in August, is competing in his first USGA championship here after some 15 previous attempts. Though he opened with a round of 86, he isn’t concerned about the score this week.
I’ve got to believe it’s been since the early 1980s that I’ve been trying to qualify for the Public Links, said Arnold. They had U.S. Senior Amateur qualifying in Fairbanks and I came in third there, and I also tried once for the Mid-Amateur. There were a few years where my handicap wasn’t quite low enough or I wasn’t in town.
After shooting 47 on his opening nine holes on Monday, Arnold had a 39 on his inward nine.
I just have to plow through, said Arnold. I don’t want to say that I don’t care how I play, but playing well doesn’t matter. It’s a lifetime goal reached. When I made it, my wife asked me if something was wrong, because I was almost in tears. I couldn’t believe I had done it at age 57.
Arnold grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, where he began playing in high school, in an era when Bobby Clampett and Dan Forsman were the top players in the region.
Before this, my biggest accomplishment was qualifying for the Northern California Junior, said Arnold. I really learned how to play tournament golf, grind out good rounds of golf. I spent a lot of summers coming in last place.
More recently, Arnold has won the Alaska state senior championship after finishing as runner-up three times, as well as the state senior match-play title. He contended for the Alaska state amateur a few times as well, but his ultimate goal was always a USGA championship.
Arnold underwent back surgery at age 36 and adopted a single-plane swing several years ago. I was looking for something a little more body-friendly. Every year I’m playing golf after age 50 is a blessing. Now I am hoping to keep playing until I can shoot my age.
In the meantime, he is reveling in this national championship.
It’s a privilege to be here, said Arnold. I’ve always appreciated good players; I wouldn’t put myself in their category, but it’s nice to see how they play the game and to compete with them. It’s totally different from my way of playing, but that’s fine with me. I’ve got a couple of years on them.
Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.