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Walker Cup Alters Niebrugge’s Goals

If Jordan Niebrugge is named to the Walker Cup team next week, which most observers expect to happen, an assist will go out to team captain Jim Holtgrieve. For it was Holtgrieve who inspired Niebrugge to think about the Walker Cup, to make it a summer 2013 goal. Holtgrieve spoke at the Sunnehanna Amateur back in June, where, as he has done so often over the past four years, he spoke movingly about the Walker Cup experience and what it meant to him as a player and as a two-time captain. He talked about the importance of playing for country, and the impact it can have on a person for the rest of his life. A light was apparently switched on, and Niebrugge had a new summer focus. Niebrugge, a quiet, humble 19-year-old sophomore at Oklahoma State, hails from suburban Milwaukee. On the eve of the U.S. Amateur, he is the hottest amateur in America. In a whirlwind, three-week period, he won the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship, took home his second state amateur title of the summer, and then won the prestigious Western Amateur in convincing style. The ride began at the Publinks, where Niebrugge won the title by defeating Michael Kim, the 2012-13 college player of the year and low amateur at the U.S. Open earlier this summer. Kim is a stud, ranked No. 3 in the World Amateur Golf Rankings, and this 1-up victory must have done wonders for Niebrugge’s confidence. In earning a likely trip to The Masters, Niebrugge made one bogey in the 36-hole final match. Niebrugge then went home to play in his state amateur championship, which he won, thereby completing the “Wisconsin Slam” – he won the state match-play title earlier in the summer. Then it was on to the Western, amateur golf’s most prestigious grind. Seventy-two holes of stroke play in the heat, followed by four matches if you are lucky enough to make it to the final. Niebrugge hit 53 of 54 greens in regulation in the first three stroke-play rounds while carrying his own bag before coasting to a third-place finish. He won his first two matches somewhat easily, came from behind to win his semifinal match with a birdie on the final hole and then beat Sean Dale in the rain-delayed final match, 3 and 2. Niebrugge has impressed a lot of people with his game this summer, including Wisconsin golf hall of famer Bob Gregorski, who was quoted in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel as saying this after playing the first two rounds of the Wisconsin Amateur with Niebrugge: “I’ve played with everybody. I’ve played with (Steve) Stricker and (Mark) Wilson and (Jerry) Kelly and he’s better than all of them at this age, for sure. There is no weakness in his game. As good as he hits it, his short game is even better. No question, he’s as good as I’ve ever seen, especially at this age.” What flipped the switch? Niebrugge says he is a good ball striker, but it is his short game that has made a big difference this summer. “I have been saving a lot of shots around the greens,” he told me last week. Niebrugge was lured to Oklahoma State by the tradition and by the first-class practice facilities the school provides the golf teams. He was recruited by Alan Bratton, now the school’s head coach. Bratton liked everything about him; his athleticism, his on-course aggressiveness, his work ethic and his overall demeanor. He saw nothing but upside for a kid from a short-season part of the country who had advanced as far as he had.


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