ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – While many of the elite young Americans bounce from event to event on the amateur golf schedule, Jordan Niebrugge opted for a summer abroad.
Following the NCAA Championship in early June, the rising senior at Oklahoma State set off on a whirlwind tour of Great Britain that culminated with his appearance here at the Open Championship, where he opened with 5-under 67, the best-ever start by an amateur at St. Andrews.
For the past few years, OSU coach Alan Bratton and Niebrugge’s father, Ron, have collaborated on an overall plan for development for Jordan. Last year that meant traveling to Australia for the Masters of the Amateurs tournament at Royal Melbourne. This summer, it meant starts in the British Amateur, English Amateur and now the Open.
“The courses he’s played this summer have been like graduate school for golf,” Bratton said via email.
Many aspects go into being a well-round player, a good professional, and that process starts now. Bratton thought it would be good experience for Niebrugge to play in different conditions.
“It’s not target golf, like back in the States,” Niebrugge said. “Just to play around here and use your imagination is cool.”
After all, when it’s time to turn pro, he may have to follow the lead of another OSU Cowboy, Peter Uihlein, who went the European Tour route. Having never ventured overseas, Niebrugge didn’t know whether he liked the travel. Or the food. Or the style of golf required over here.
“I try to impress upon him to look at the big picture,” Rod Niebrugge said. “What you want to do in your life, if it’s two years from now, you have to prepare earlier.”
So, a few days after NCAAs, Niebrugge flew across the pond with his family and Illinois senior Charlie Danielson, a fellow Wisconsinite and one of Niebrugge’s best friends since they were 8 years old.
Niebrugge advanced to the Round of 64 at the British Amateur at Carnoustie, then headed to England to play in the Brabazon Trophy. Exempt into the final stage of British Open qualifying, he then shared medalist honors at Hillside to earn a spot in his second career major. (He missed the cut in the 2014 Masters.) In all, he’s played close to 20 rounds of links golf in the past month – and it turns out it’s a good fit.
With local caddie Graham Goodyear on his bag, Niebrugge took advantage of the easier morning conditions and made seven birdies during an opening 67, which left him just two shots off the clubhouse lead.
A high finish this week will surely put Niebrugge back on the Walker Cup radar – the team is finalized next month – but that’s not his biggest goal this summer.
“No, it’s not it’s not what’s driving him this summer,” Rod Niebrugge said. “He wants the experience and to play on Tour someday.”
And few experiences are better than a summer abroad.