NEWTON, Kan. – Sand Creek Station must be the Grand Central of the Midwest, a hub activity dating to the late 1800’s when it served as a western terminal. The rails running along the fifth hole (so named the Railroad hole), 10th and 16th holes add a unique soundtrack to a round of golf at Sand Creek Station Golf Course, the host of the 89th U.S. Amateur Public Links. On Wednesday, the Jordan Niebrugge Express steamrolled Zecheng “Marty” Dou of China, the No. 13 seed, like a locomotive.
This was a rematch of their quarterfinal duel in 2013, and Niebrugge prevailed again by a score of 4-and-2 to advance to the round of 32.
On Monday and for his first nine holes Tuesday, Niebrugge’s game appeared to be off the rails. The defending champion was 6 over after 27 holes and in danger of missing match play. He rebounded to avoid the 11-for-7 playoff as the No. 51 seed.
Niebrugge, 20, never lost a hole in his match with Dou. He grabbed the lead with a birdie at the par-3, third hole and went 2 up at the sixth when he planted an 8-iron 10 feet past the hole and made the putt. Dou, No. 42 in the World Amateur Golf Rankings, was a tough first round foe. Still, Niebrugge never lost a hole. Niebrugge drained a 15-foot birdie putt on 11 to stretch his lead to 3 up. It was the last birdie he needed.
“I just kept the pressure on him,” Niebrugge said.
Niebrugge displayed remarkable distance control on the putting greens, including a lag of 70 feet on No. 13 to tap-in range. But after a few days of driving it “squirrelly,” he said the key was an hour-long range session Tuesday afternoon during which his father videotaped his swing on his iPad and sent it to Niebrugge’s coach, Tom Anton. The diagnosis?
“I wasn’t really stuck but I was hopping up on my left foot and ended up making a little more solid foundation,” he said.
It worked. Niebrugge’s card showed six birdies and no bogeys. When Dou’s 5-foot par putt spun out of the hole at 16, he lifted his cap and shook hands with Niebrugge. The defending champ moved on. All aboard the Niebrugge Express.
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DOWN GOES NO. 1: The top seed, Zane Thomas of Las Vegas, Nev., lost a tight match to Joshua Lee of Fleming Island, Fla., the last man into the field when he chipped in for birdie on the third extra hole. Thomas led 2 up after 13 but lost Nos. 14, 16 and 17 when he made bogey, double, bogey. It marked the third straight year that the No. 1 seed fell in the round of 64.
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EXTRA HOLES: Third-seeded Byron Meth of San Diego, Calif., advanced 1 up in 19 holes over No. 62-seed Vinnie Murphy of Edgewood, Wash. Meth never trailed. He stuck his approach to 2 feet at the fifth to go 1 up, lost the sixth, but pulled ahead with a birdie at 10. Murphy squared the match at 16 and canned a 10-footer on 18 for par to force extra holes. On the 19th hole, Murphy made his first bogey of the day and it cost him dearly as Meth moved on to face Erik Kline of Ponca City, Okla.
In the longest match of the day, Scott Wolfes of Saint Simons Island, Ga., outlasted Nathan Clark of Charlotte, Mich., in 20 holes. In another see-saw affair, Wolfes won the 17th hole to even the match and closed it out with a birdie on the par-5 second hole.
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THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT: Easton Paxton, 15, of Riverton, Wyo., drilled a must-make 20-foot uphill, right-to-left birdie putt at 17. He was 1 down and his opponent, Steven Delmar of Gaithersburg, Md., faced a putt of half the distance. If Paxton missed and Delmar converted, the match would be over. Instead, Paxton won the hole when Delmar missed and claimed a 1-up victory when Delmar made bogey at the last. When told his next opponent would be Niebrugge, Paxton said, “Ooh, that’ll be a good one. Cool.”
Sam Horsfield, 17, rallied from 1 down after 11 holes to beat Andrej Bevins of Elk Grove, Calif. Horsfield, the No. 6 seed, turned the tables by sinking a 40-foot eagle putt from short of the 12th green and then pouring in a 12-footer for birdie on the next hole. Bevins lost No. 16 when he made his first bogey of the match and fell to Horsfield 2 and 1.
Issei Tanabe, 15, of Japan wasn’t so fortunate. He lost to Ryan Tetrault of Orange, Calif., 3 and 2.
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40-SOMETHINGS ADVANCE: Jon Veneziano, 42, of Mount Dora, Fla., was a semifinalist in the 1988 U.S. Junior Amateur. That was before Paxton and Horsfield were born. But he is moving on into the round of 32 after defeating Rigel Fernandes of India, 2 and 1.
Jess Bonneau advanced 1 up over Thomas Lim of Eugene, Ore. Bonneau, the 55th seed, said he never had tried to qualify for the APL, but figured since it was the last year, “What the heck.” The sales rep for U.S. Foods never trailed in a tightly contested match. He was 2 up on 14 when he chunked a chip, but canned the 20-foot par putt. “That was huge,” Bonneau said. “I don’t think he was expecting me to make that one.”
As for the atmosphere at the Publinx, Bonneau said, “There aren’t a whole lot of guys hanging around having a beer after the round. I don’t think most of them are old enough to.”
Sean Knapp of Oakmont, Penn., at 52 the oldest player to make match play, was eliminated by Ben Hogenkamp of Minster, Ohio, 3 and 2.
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HOW LOW CAN THEY GO: Garrett Rank of Canada, the 2013 APL stroke-play medalist, toured the front nine in 30 and smoked Kyle Henning of Brookfield, Wisc., 5 and 4. Charlie Danielson of Osceola, Wisc., did one better, carding a 29 while making birdies on 7 of 13 holes in bouncing Aaron Flores of San Antonio, Tex., 7 and 6.
“When I got to 9, the tees were moved up, and I knew if I got up and down I would shoot 7 under,” Danielson said. “I chipped it up there to about 2½ feet and knocked it in.”
What was working for Bryson DeChambeau in his round-of-64 match? “You mean other than everything,” he said.
The rising junior at Southern Methodist University credited a range session with his longtime golf coach, Mike Schy, who also is caddying for him this week, with helping him get his swing back on plane. DeChambeau, 20, poured in five birdies in 14 holes while trouncing Chase Johnson of Barberton, Ohio, 5 and 4.
Michael Gellerman, a 21-year-old senior at the University of Oklahoma, is the closest thing to a local favorite. He lives in Sterling, Kan., about an hour west of Newton. He birdied 7 of 14 holes in a 5-and-4 triumph over Trent Peterson of Eagan, Minn.
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SHORT SHOTS: Six of the first seven matches were decided on the 18th hole … Doug Ghim of Arlington Heights, Ill., one of four who shared medalist honors, cruised to a big lead, 4 up through 8 holes, and hung on for a 3-and-2 win over Ted Moon … Fellow co-medalist Rico Hoey (No. 2), the Pac-12 conference freshman of the year, rolled to a 4-and-2 win over Paul McClure of Mobile, Ala. … Gavin Green of Malaysia, No. 13 in the World Amateur Golf Rankings, edged Herbie Aikens of Pembroke, Mass., 2 and 1.