NEWTON, Kan. – Jordan Niebrugge continues to prove that he can play with the lead.
The defending U.S. Amateur Public Links champion opened the match-play portion of his defense on Wednesday with a 4-and-2 victory over Zecheng Dou, of the People’s Republic of China. Niebrugge, of Mequon, Wis., took the lead with a birdie on the third hole at Sand Creek Station Golf Course and retained the advantage throughout, ousting Dou for the second consecutive year in the APL.
Last year we were both 7 or 8 under, said Niebrugge, who prevailed, 1 up, in the quarterfinal matchup at Laurel Hill Golf Club in Lorton, Va. This year’s match was pretty good, too. He played solid golf.
Niebrugge’s early lead mirrored his formula for victory in 2013, when he trailed for only two of the 114 holes he played over six matches. His six-birdie, no-bogey effort on Wednesday wore down Dou, 17, who finished tied for fourth in last fall’s Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship. Niebrugge took a 2-up lead with a birdie on the par-4 sixth hole. He missed several good opportunities to take a 3-up lead before converting from 14 feet on No. 11.
Until No. 11, I had a putt to make birdie on pretty much every single hole from inside 15 or 20 feet, said Niebrugge. I just needed to make a few of them to keep the pressure on. Being able to roll that one in was big.
Dou made three birdies – all matched by Niebrugge – and no bogeys until the 16th hole, when he three-putted and was closed out.
Niebrugge played his final nine holes of stroke-play qualifying on Tuesday in 2 under to avoid a playoff for the final match-play berths by one stroke, and his No. 52 seeding is not indicative of where his game now stands.
I worked for about an hour after my round yesterday and found something on the range, said Niebrugge. I had been hitting it kind of squirrely off the tee in the first two rounds, and even at the John Deere [Classic, where he tied for 27th in the PGA Tour event that ended Sunday]. My short game has really saved me the past two weeks, as well as my putting. Now I’ve got the long game going, so let’s see what happens.
Danielson Scorches Opening Nine in 29
Charlie Danielson, of Osceola, Wis., made seven birdies in the first nine holes of his match and went on to close out Aaron Flores, of San Antonio, 6 and 5.
I didn’t really care what I was shooting, said Danielson, who reached the Round of 16 in last year’s U.S. Amateur. I just wanted to birdie every hole.
None of Danielson’s seven birdies on the outward nine was conceded, and he holed one 20-footer and one 15-footer, with the rest ranging between 3 and 8 feet. He birdied his first four holes and closed out the side with birdies on Nos. 6, 8 and 9.
One thing I’m really doing well is driving – I’m putting it in the fairway and the rest kind of takes care of itself, said Danielson. When I got to 9, the tees were moved up, and I knew if I got up and down I would shoot 7 under. I chipped it up there to about 2½ feet and knocked it in.
Danielson said his match-play mindset helped him post the low score.
In stroke play you’re thinking of the result, said the rising junior at the University of Illinois. I was just going out and trying to win the hole. I didn’t have any pressure on me, so it was lot easier to do it. I just tried to stay aggressive all day.
The result was a 6-and-5 win, after Danielson offset his lone bogey on No. 10 with a final birdie on No. 12 and a match-ending par on the 13th. Rick Turner, of Houston, a member of the USGA’s Amateur Public Links Committee and the referee for the match, called it the best nine holes he had ever been associated with. Turner worked the U.S. Senior Open in Edmond, Okla., last week and will also officiate at next week’s U.S. Junior Amateur, which starts on Monday in The Woodlands, Texas.
43-Year-Old Bonneau Moves into Round 2
Jess Bonneau of Houston encountered a problem on Tuesday that not many others in the APL field could empathize with.
I played really well on Monday, said Bonneau, 43, who was one of the few players in that day’s afternoon wave to shoot under par, with a 70. And on Tuesday morning, it was kind of cool and I was a little stiff, especially after walking the day before, which I don’t normally do. The 52-degree weather that morning was a shocker. I wasn’t expecting that when I packed.
Bonneau, one of just seven players in the starting field of 156 who is age 40 or older, proceeded to hit his opening tee shot into a hazard and make double bogey.
I was 5 over for the day and 4 over for the tournament after six holes, said Bonneau, who managed to play even par the rest of the way for 70-76–146. On the easy day I played poorly, and on the hard day I played well.
Bonneau, who played in the U.S. Mid-Amateur in 2011 and 2013, is playing in his first APL. He only attempted to qualify once before.
It’s probably been 24 years since I tried. This was the final one and it all worked out – the qualifier was on a Tuesday and I could swing it with work, said Bonneau, an area manager for a food distribution company. I typically get through work in the evening and play a few holes when I can. Otherwise, I’m a weekend golfer.
Bonneau led most of the way in his opening-round match against Thomas Lim, of Eugene, Ore., and was dormie 2. He bogeyed No. 17, and drove into a fairway bunker on No. 18. However, he hit his approach to 15 feet and two-putted to advance to Round 2 and a match with Ryan Tetreault at 8:50 a.m. on Thursday.
Hopefully, the conditions will help Bonneau be loose and ready to go.
Tee It Forward
The tees were moved up significantly on two holes at Sand Creek Station in the first round of match play, giving players a chance to drive the green. The ninth hole, which normally plays at 423 yards, measured 308 yards on Wednesday, and the 12th hole played just 257 yards – 159 yards shorter than the scorecard.
That’s typical USGA match play, said Garrett Rank, who is playing in his eighth USGA championship. They usually move a tee up. I’m not afraid of that and I try to take advantage of those holes.
Rank experienced both the risk and the reward of the short par 4s. He eagled the ninth by hitting a driver to the fringe and sinking the putt, but lost the 12th hole with a bogey when he couldn’t find his 4-iron tee shot, which bounced left of the green into tall fescue.
Sam Horsfield came to the 12th tee 1 down in his match, but drove the green and made eagle to square his match with Andrej Bevins. Horsfield seized the momentum and won two more holes for a 2-and-1 victory.
For those players that are down, it gives you a chance to play aggressively and maybe get one back, said Joshua Lee, who birdied both holes and beat No. 1 seed Zane Thomas, 1 up.
It makes match play really exciting and I’m all for that, said Kansas native Michael Gellerman, who recorded a 5-and-4 victory over Trent Peterson. When it comes down to it, both guys have to play the hole so it doesn’t really matter what the par or yardage is.
Three mid-amateurs (age 25 or older) advanced to the second round: Rank, 26; Jon Veneziano, 43; and Jess Bonneau, 43… The youngest player remaining is 15-year-old Easton Paxton, a sophomore at Riverton (Wyo.) High School. Paxton won four of his last six holes against Steven Delmar to win, 1 up… Bryson Dechambeau and defending champion Jordan Niebrugge were the only players who did not lose a hole in the first round… For the second consecutive day, Vinnie Murphy played extra holes. On Tuesday he holed an 88-yard wedge on the second hole of an 11-for-7 playoff to advance to match play. On Wednesday he fell to co-medalist Byron Meth in 19 holes… Horsfield recorded three 2s over his final six holes. He eagled the short par-4 12th and birdied the 13th and 17th holes, both par 3s… For the second consecutive day, Sam Saunders, of Albuquerque, N.M., will play an opponent with New Mexico ties. After defeating fellow Albuquerque native Sean Carlon, 3 and 2, Saunders will face University of New Mexico standout Gavin Green in the second round.
Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com. Michael Trostel of the USGA contributed.