LORTON, Va. – Jordan Niebrugge’s resume over the past year in college and amateur golf pales in comparison with those of Michael Kim.
It doesn’t matter.
Come Saturday, Niebrugge, a sophomore at Oklahoma State, and Kim, a junior at California, will stand as equals when they walk to the first tee at Laurel Hill Golf Club to begin the scheduled 36-hole final match in the 88th U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship.
They became the last two standing from the starting field of 156 when each won his semifinal match Thursday afternoon.
Niebrugge, an honorable mention All-American last season, scored a 3-and-2 victory over James Erkenbeck, a recent New Mexico graduate and first-team All-American.
Kim continued his title march by defeating Eric Sugimoto, a junior at Pacific, 4 and 3.
On paper, Kim, no doubt, would be the heavy favorite. He captured four college titles last season when he was a first-team All-American and won the Jack Nicklaus and Haskins awards as college player of the year while finishing No. 1 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings.
Earlier this summer, he represented the U.S. on the Palmer Cup team and a couple of weeks later was low amateur (T-17) in the U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club. And, earlier this week, Kim was one of the first five selections for this year’s Walker Cup. (The next five will be chosen later this summer.)
Niebrugge didn’t win a college tournament this past season and finished No. 43 in the rankings.
Still, he is not fazed by being such a big underdog in Saturday’s title match that will provide the winner with, among other perks, an expected invitation to compete in the 2014 Masters.
“I know Michael is a great player and has done some great things over the past year,” said Niebrugge, of Mequon, Wis. “But, right now I think I’m playing well enough to play with anyone. I won’t be intimidated or anything like that. I’m really looking forward to it.”
Niebrugge’s margin of victory marked the fourth time in his five matches that he has ended things before playing the 17th hole.
After Erkenbeck won the second hole, Niebrugge won Nos. 3 and 4 to go 1 up. Erkenbeck, who had two wins this past college season, including the NCAA Columbus Regional, won No. 7 with a birdie to square things, but Niebrugge won Nos. 9 and 10 with birdies and never looked back.
Erkenbeck, the West Coast Conference Player of the Year, won the 11th hole with a par, but Niebrugge took the 14th with a par and 15th with a birdie. A halve at 16 closed out the match.
“Today was tough,” Niebrugge said. “Two close matches, and with the heat, I was getting a little tired out there. I’ve been hitting it well enough for a while and this week my putter has really got going. I’ve made a lot of 15-20 footers and that was the key to my match this afternoon. I only made one bogey.”
Once Kim got going in his match he was too much to stop. Sugimoto won the sixth hole to take a 1-up lead, but Kim answered with a birdies at 7, par at 8 and birdie at 9 to go 2 up.
A par at the 14th got him to 3 up, and the Pac-12 Conference Player of the Year put it to an end with a birdie at the 15th.
“I gave myself a lot of opportunities and was able to take advantage of most of them,” said Kim, of Del Mar, Calif. “I didn’t make any bogeys this afternoon, and that’s always huge, especially in match play.
“I played great this afternoon, probably my best round of the tournament by far,” Kim said. “And, when you’re not giving holes away, you’re going to be hard to beat.”
To win here and claim his first USGA title would especially gratifying for Kim.
“It would mean so much,” he said. “I look at the list of previous winners and see the names of all those guys now on the PGA Tour. To put my name on that trophy with them would really be special. And then to get that invitation to the Masters, that’s like a dream come true.”
Although he knows he will be considered the heavy favorite, Kim knows he can’t take anything for granted, especially where match play is concerned.
“It’s going to be a tough match,” he said. “Obviously Jordan is playing great this week and has really got his game going. I know I’m going to have to keep grinding it out.
“I never talked with Jordan, never even met him,” Kim said. “I guess we’ll have plenty of time tomorrow to get to know each other.”
That they will in a classic case of David vs. Goliath with a national championship resting on the outcome.