117TH U.S. OPEN: DAY 3 OF PRACTICE
Niebrugge’s next shot
Homestead graduate ready to make cut at latest major

By GIDAL KAISER

June 15, 2017

American professional golfer and Mequon native Jordan Niebrugge kicks his leg out Tuesday afternoon as he watches his putt attempt on the No. 8 green slow down during his practice round for the 117th U.S. Open Championship at Erin Hills in the town of Erin.
>>VIDEO: Jordan Niebrugge tees off, Day 1 of tournament
John Ehlke/Daily News

TOWN OF ERIN — If there are nerves, Jordan Niebrugge isn’t showing them. Yet.

Being one of just two state golfers to participate in Wisconsin’s first U.S. Open? The Mequon-raised Niebrugge smiles, and notes it’s special.

What about the honor of hitting the first tee shot of the Open, which takes place at 6:45 a.m. today?

It’s special as well, but Niebrugge seemed a little more excited about playing his first two rounds with fellow Oklahoma State University alumni Kevin Dougherty and Talor Gooch. Homestead head boys golf coach Steve O’Brien said the demeanor is a calculated approach, an effort to keep things as close to businesslike as possible as Niebrugge participates in his fourth major.

“Every experience is only going to help him calm the nerves,” O’Brien said Tuesday as Niebrugge walked up and down the ropes near the 18th green, signing much of the memorabilia thrust at him as he made his way off the course.

“All his well-wishers have been out here and continue to come out, but we’re going to let him go about his business and try to make the cut.”

Niebrugge signs an Erin Hills flag for a fan Tuesday after walking off the green of hole No. 9 to conclude his practice round.
John Ehlke/Daily News

That is the biggest key for the Homestead graduate.

He tied for sixth at the 2015 Open Championship, with his 11-under-par 277 going into the record books as the lowest score by an amateur in the history of the fabled tournament. He missed the cut at the 2016 British Open, and hopes his latest opportunity catapults him through not only four rounds, but eventual qualifying for the PGA Tour.

“It’s a good experience to look back on, especially when you’re coming out to these majors,” Niebrugge said of his British Open rounds. “It’s good to look back on and know you belong.”

Niebrugge tied for 34th at the PGA Tour Canda’s Bayview Place Cardtronics Open prior to coming home. He placed second at the PGA Tour Canada’s Freedom 55 Financial Open the week before that, then earned a sectional qualifier spot in the Tacoma, Washington, tying for second.

Before that, he tied for third during the local qualifier at The Bull at Pinehurst Farms in Sheboygan.

“That ‘jump through the ceiling’ feeling,” O’Brien said as he described getting Niebrugge’s text after the Tacoma sectional.

“Elation for him; so happy because of all the time and effort he’s put in,” the coach added. “He’s meant so much to our golf program at Homestead and the school and community in general. It’s someone we can rally around and cheer for him, because he’s such a great kid.”

Niebrugge called each qualification step a grind. He claimed comfort in having experience at Erin Hills — he’s played it more than 10 times, including earning a 2013 U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship qualifier win and tying for fourth at the 2015 Erin Hills Intercollegiate hosted by Marquette University.

“Getting to play out here is just a great opportunity,” he added. “Being comfortable with the course and being comfortable with (my playing partners), and getting off to a good start, is the key thing Thursday.”

Niebrugge’s qualification for the 2013 Publick Links led to a victory at the tournament, the second of four consecutive amateur wins that year — the Wisconsin Match Play Championship, the Publinx, the Wisconsin State Amateur and the Western Amateur. Niebrugge’s rise up the statewide scene also included victories at the 2012 Wisconsin State Open and the 2012 WIAA State Championships; he is one of just two golfers to win the “Wisconsin Slam.”

The 6-foot-4 former Highlander’s rise through the state and ensuing push has caught the eye of Wisconsin’s other golf notables, Andy North and Steve Stricker.

“He’s in that next wave of really talented, young players,” Stricker said Tuesday at a news conference. “He’s got the body shape, the club-head speed of this new generation of how these kids play. And that’s hit it a long ways.

“I’ve played with him a few times, and he impresses me a lot. I keep trying to think if I had that length and talent like that how much fun that would be to hit it 30 yards further than what I do now.”

Told of Stricker’s compliment, Niebrugge laughed.

“I wish I had (Stricker’s) wedge game, and his putting,” Niebrugge joked. “Maybe we’d make good bestball partners, scramble partners.

“That’s pretty cool to hear that from him. ... It’s pretty cool to have him speak highly of me.”

North noted Monday “it will be fun to see” Niebrugge’s first tee shot tomorrow, adding the Wisconsinite is on a “nice progression” and just needs to become more consistent.

In an effort to do so, Niebrugge noted his three practice rounds were all about doing homework — catching up on new tweaks, rediscovering lines off the tees and getting a general feeling - out of the course itself.

“It’s pretty special, being my first Open,” Niebrugge said. “It’s been one of my goals for a while now, ever since five or six years ago when the USGA put it in place. Being able to get the opportunity to play out here, it’s pretty cool.”