AUGUSTA, Ga. – Jordan Niebrugge’s feet dangle off the edge of the bed in the Crow’s Nest, but he’s not complaining. The 6-foot-4-inch sophomore from Oklahoma State has dream digs by any 20-year-old’s standard.
Niebrugge, playing in his first Masters, will have a crowd of 20-plus supporters following him around Augusta this week. The group is easily spotted thanks to the bright orange hats his father had made.
Niebrugge, who calls Mequon, Wis., home, won the 2013 U.S. Amateur Public Links last summer during a torrid 22-day stretch. He also triumphed at the Wisconsin State Amateur and Western Amateur during that period, playing 10 rounds of stroke play and 10 rounds of match play. He traveled more than 1,600 miles.
Because this year’s U.S. Amateur Public Links will be the last, Niebrugge will be one of the last amateurs to play the Masters under that special exemption.
“It’s unfortunate,” said Niebrugge, “some of the guys not being able to get this opportunity.”
Niebrugge, one of six amateurs in the field this year, played Augusta seven or eight times (so many he lost track) before this week. On Tuesday, he played a practice round alongside fellow Wisconsin resident Steve Stricker. The rookie especially appreciated Stricker’s advice on angles to take on the par-5s and the easiest spots to get up and down.
The goals this week are simple: Earn low amateur honors and finish in the top 12 and ties to get an invite back.
While Niebrugge’s father, Rod, caddied all six rounds at the APL, Cowboys head coach Alan Bratton is on duty this week.
“I think he has a great imagination around the greens,” Niebrugge said of Bratton. “He’ll put the club in my hand, tell me what he wants to see, and I’m usually able to do it.”
Bratton has plenty of experience at majors, having looped in three U.S. Opens, one U.S. Women’s Open and one other Masters Tournament for Peter Uihlein. The school had several OSU staff bags made when Uihlein played at Augusta in 2011, and another one was sitting around Stillwater waiting for the next Cowboy to get a start.
Bratton’s main job this week is to keep his player calm. A pair of singles victories at the Walker Cup and Niebrugge’s state record – he’s the only player besides PGA Tour player Mark Wilson to win two Wisconsin state amateur titles, a state Open and a state high school championship, known as the “Wisconsin Slam” – would make one think he can handle the pressure.
Then again, nothing he has faced before falls in the stratosphere of the year’s first major.
“It may be a little hard to get oxygen on the first tee,” Bratton said.
The quicker he can settle down, the better.
The strengths to Niebrugge’s game, Bratton said, are his long and middle irons and lengthy tee shots. He won’t be the longest in the field, but he won’t trail many either.
To put the nerves he’ll feel on the opening drive in perspective, Niebrugge quotes Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who said “If you’re not nervous, then you don’t care,” before an NFC Championship game.
“That pretty much speaks for itself,” Niebrugge said.