Notebook: Rubbing Elbows with the Amateur Elite July 14, 2014 By Ron Driscoll, USGA

Garren Poirer, a 33-year-old Vermonter making his third APL appearance, missed the cut but enjoyed two days with his playing partners. (USGA/Chris Keane)

NEWTON, Kan. – They made an interesting grouping in the stroke-play qualifying rounds of the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship: the defending champion, the up-and-comer and the mid-amateur who was thrilled with his draw.

After playing 36 holes with 2013 champion Jordan Niebrugge, 20, of Mequon, Wis., and Davis Hangyerel Chung, 16, of Las Cruces, N.M., Garren Poirier, 33, of Killington, Vt., was happy about his third appearance in the APL. I’m not going to lie to you, said Poirier. I was excited to be playing with Jordan.

He’s kind of a big deal on the amateur golf circuit, Poirier added with a chuckle.

Niebrugge, who helped the USA to victory in the Walker Cup Match last September, finished safely inside the cutline for the match-play draw with rounds of 74-72. Chung, who is entering his senior year of high school, ended 36 holes at even-par 142, in the top half of the 64-player match-play field. Poirier shot 79-78 to miss match play by 10 strokes, but he was not disappointed.

I missed a few shots here and there, and you just can’t do that in these championships, said Poirier, who made match play in 2009 and 2010, losing in the first round each time. These are the majors for sure, the events you look forward to every year. My wife made me a cool plaque for my player badges. I don’t know if the kids really appreciate it yet.

Poirier, who works as a photographer and a bartender, also competes to represent Vermont in the biennial USGA State Team Championship. He will play for the Green Mountain State for the fourth time in September, having accumulated enough points by finishing fifth in the State Amateur and making the APL field. Poirier, who has also played in one U.S. Amateur and one Mid-Amateur, enjoyed his front-row seat the past two days.

It’s fun to see guys who are really good and watch how they compose themselves, said Poirier. [Niebrugge] was able to hold it together and keep himself right in there. I enjoyed Davis as well; he’s a good kid.

Having relished his opportunity in Kansas, it’s on to the New England Amateur Championship next week for Poirier, then a qualifier for his next major, the U.S. Mid-Amateur.

Niebrugge Battles His Way to Match Play

Starting on the 10th hole, defending champion Jordan Niebrugge made the turn on Tuesday morning at 6 over par, which would have left him outside the cutline for match play (11 players ended up playing off for seven spots at 5 over). However, he made three birdies on his inward nine against one bogey to set up a first-round match at 9:40 a.m. CDT against Zecheng Dou, of the People’s Republic of China.

I had work to do on the back nine, said Niebrugge, who tied for 27th last weekend at the John Deere Classic on the PGA Tour. I just decided to give it all I could, and I gave myself birdie opportunities on eight of the nine holes.

Niebrugge started with a birdie on No. 1, a 484-yard par 4 into the wind. Niebrugge made two more birdies before he flew the green with a 6-iron approach on the 443-yard par-4 8th and failed to get up and down from a tough lie. The bogey late in his round didn’t end up costing him, however.

There’s not much difference in my game from the John Deere to here, said Niebrugge, who altered his strategy and used more 3-wood tee shots on Tuesday. I could get away with hitting errant shots there and you can’t really do that here – there’s water and fescue out here. I started hitting the ball a lot better off the tee on the final nine.

Co-Medalist Guides Friend into Match Play

After three-putting from 6 feet on his final hole in the second round to fall to 5-over 147 and into an 11-way playoff to determine the final seven seeds for match play, Joshua Lee needed a lift. A spark came in the form of co-medalist Doug Ghim, who served as Lee’s caddie in the playoff.

We’re family friends, said Lee, of Fleming Island, Fla. My father was too tired to caddie so Doug’s dad told my dad that Doug would do it.

Ghim, of Glendale, Ariz., helped his friend to pars on the first two playoff holes, setting up a showdown against Talon Supak and David Pastore. After Lee hit his second shot on the 411-yard 12th hole just short of the green, he faced an uphill chip of about 20 feet.

It’s a little right to left, counseled Ghim. Just take your 52-degree wedge and land it on the green.

Lee complied perfectly, and the ball rolled into the middle of the hole.

As good as the chip was, it was far from the best shot during the playoff. On the second hole, Vinnie Murphy holed an 88-yarder for eagle to advance to match play.

Stroke-Play Notes

Despite two double bogeys, Michael Gellerman of Sterling, about 60 miles northwest of Newton, shot 71 for a total of 145 and was the only Kansan to make match play… Conditions were relatively calm all day, but the second-round scoring average was 74.83, just 0.17 strokes lower than the first round, when the wind picked up in the afternoon… Thirty-eight of the 64 players who qualified for match play – and 15 of the top 16 finishers – played early in the first round and late in the second round, helped by calm conditions both days… Through two days of stroke play, only one hole – the par-4 18th – finished with a scoring average under par (3.92)… The most difficult hole was the 16th, a par 4 that measured 494 yards in the first round and 484 yards in the second; it played to an average of 4.49.

Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at rdriscoll@usga.org. Hunki Yun and Mike Trostel of the USGA contributed.