If golfing wisdom is to be believed, Open Championship skills take years to perfect.
That message was obviously lost on Jordan Niebrugge, a 21-year-old amateur from Oklahoma State University who opened the 144th Open with a 67. That score matched the low amateur record held since 1960 by Joe Carr.
Niebrugge was suddenly in esteemed company. His first round matched that of another Jordan, Spieth, a golfer of the same age but a different financial stratosphere.
“It was awesome out there,” said Niebrugge, who earned his Open spot by shooting 69-72 at Hillside in final qualifying. “We had an early tee time so it was good to be out there ahead of the wind. I definitely made the most of my opportunity.”
Niebrugge was not the only amateur to do that. Paul Dunne, a 22-year-old from the Irish town of Greystones, signed for a 69. Romain Langasque, the British amateur champion, matched Dunne’s score.
The Liverpudlian Paul Kinnear had raced to six under par after a dozen holes and threatened to produce the story of day one before being bitten by the Old Course. He had to be content with 70. Ollie Schniederjans also produced a two-under-par round.
Widespread shock at this scenario is not entirely valid. Amateur golfers sample more competitive links events as routine than professionals. The crowds here are obviously bigger and attention more intense but a basic ability to handle the nuances of links golf is a decent starting point.
“Last month I came over for three weeks or so and played in the British Amateur, the Brabazon Trophy in England and the qualifier, so I got to experience the weather and all the links stuff then,” Niebrugge explained. “I’ve got a lot of experience on links golf courses, and just kind of how it plays. You just have to use your imagination.
“The experience of playing in an Open can’t hurt you. Just having all those experiences again and again helps in the long run, just playing different style courses makes you feel more comfortable anywhere you go, whether it be here or back in the States. You can just use that experience wherever you go.
“I’ve liked it a lot, I am definitely getting used to the surroundings but, golf course-wise, I’ve liked every course I’ve played.”
Kinnear was content with what could have been deemed a bittersweet Open debut. “I was really happy with my first 12 holes and I knew it was going to be tough coming in because I’ve played here quite a lot,” he explained. “It was a real tough struggle and tough stretch, and I got a few unlucky bounces, which other days you could have missed the bunkers but they went in them. To finish two under on my first round in the Open, I’m really pleased.”
Bedecked in Under Armour gear, Dunne has already been mistaken for Spieth on more than one occasion.
“When I put my head down they just see the sign on the hat and I’ve had a few people ask me for autographs and then they’re disappointed when I bring my head up,” he said.
Having started three-three, Dunne’s name was briefly at the summit of the St Andrews leaderboard.
“It’s kind of a novelty thing for when I’m 70 years old, sitting in a bar, having a pint, maybe telling someone that I led The Open,” he added.
“Hopefully I can do it more times in the future but it was nice to get off to a birdie-birdie start, it just settled the nerves a bit.”
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