Jordan Niebrugge, the 43rd ranked player in college golf, was a consensus underdog heading into Saturday’s U.S. Amateur Public Links 36-hole championship match against NCAA No. 1 Michael Kim.
Apparently, no one told Niebrugge.
With his father as his caddie, Niebrugge built a four-hole lead with 10 holes to play and then held off a furious rally from Kim for a one-up win at Laurel Hill Golf Club in Lorton. The victory earns the rising Oklahoma State sophomore from Mequon, Wis., a spot in next year’s Masters.
“Going into today, I was focused on kind of beating the course. I didn’t really look at who I’m playing,” said Niebrugge, ranked 114th in the world amateur golf rankings, 112 spots behind Kim. “Obviously he’s got great achievements. He’s a great player. But I thought if I went and played the course like I did all week, I could have a chance at the end.”
Niebrugge was on his game since the event started Monday, consistently finding the fairway with long drives and the bottom of the cup with key putts. His six victories included two against opponents ranked in the top 20 in the world amateur rankings. Of the 114 holes he played this week, he was trailing for just two of them.
Niebrugge started fast Saturday, going two up through five holes. Kim, a rising junior at Cal, evened the match after the eighth hole and it stayed that way to the par-4 17th. Golden Bears Coach Steve Desimone has said Kim may be the best putter in the college game, but it was Niebrugge who drained a 20-foot birdie putt to go up one.
He carried that momentum into the afternoon round, making two birdies in the first six holes to push his lead to four, where it stood after 26 holes.
Kim, who finished tied for 17th at the U.S. Open in June to win low amateur honors, trimmed a hole off Niebrugge’s lead at the turn before winning holes No. 12 and 13 to cut his deficit to one.
The pair came to the par-3 14th with the pressure dialed up and the heat sweltering. Kim’s approach shot was within a few feet of the hole, but his birdie putt stayed out. Niebrugge made par to keep his lead at one.
Kim continued to apply pressure, but Niebrugge was unfazed, making clutch par putts on 16 and 17.
“He’s just been answering all week. Somebody makes a putt, he just pours one in right on top of him,” said Rod Niebrugge, who introduced his son to the game when he was 3.
When Kim’s approach on the par-5 finishing hole found the water, Niebrugge needed to get up and down from just off the green to clinch it. When his chip stopped within inches of the cup, Kim conceded.
“I lost focus a little bit over the first nine holes of the afternoon. . . . I tried to make a comeback, pulled within one, but I just kind of ran out of holes,” Kim said. “He played great. All the credit goes to him.”