Oklahoma State contingent to reunite and start U.S. Open in special way

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Oklahoma State contingent to reunite and start U.S. Open in special way

PGA Tour

Oklahoma State contingent to reunite and start U.S. Open in special way

ERIN, Wis. – Get ready for plenty of orange.

When the tee sheet was released for the opening rounds of the 2017 U.S. Open, a few threesomes stuck out in particular. Yes, there’s Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Martin Kaymer as well as a Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Justin Rose trio.

Another group that jumped off the page: The first trio to go off No. 1 in Thursday’s first round. That threesome, heading off at 7:45 a.m. ET, would be Jordan Niebrugge, Talor Gooch and Kevin Dougherty.

What’s so special there? It’s an Oklahoma State trio: All three were teammates in Stillwater and on the roster when the Cowboys made it to the finals at the 2013 NCAA Championship.

“It’s going to be a fun two days,” Niebrugge said.

And there’s a good chance fans will see a former Oklahoma State player high on the leaderboard after 36 holes at Erin Hills, as six ex-Cowboys are in the field in all this week.

Along with that opening trio, Rickie Fowler, Alex Noren and Peter Uihlein round out the Oklahoma State contingent in this field.

But what will the Niebrugge, Gooch, Dougherty trio have to talk about? Oh, there’s plenty to look back on from those college days.

For one, Niebrugge is near home. Early in the week, the 23-year-old was staying in the family house where he grew up in Mequon, some 40 minutes from Erin Hills. For competition days, he planned to find a place closer to the course in order to avoid a significant daily commute. In the meantime, his former Cowboy comrades had an open invitation to join in his family fun.

“I told them if they wanted a home-cooked meal, they could just come over to the house,” Niebrugge said, with a smile.

That welcoming call is a far cry from the Niebrugge teammates first encountered several years ago. Niebrugge joined the Oklahoma State squad in 2012-13, but if it were up to his future teammates they wouldn’t have let him on the team at all.

Niebrugge made a horrible impression on his recruiting visit, coming across as “lifeless,” as he offered future teammates one-word answers and wouldn’t look at them when he spoke.

“Nobody wanted him on the team,” Dougherty said. “We told (then-Head Coach Mike) McGraw, ‘What the heck are you thinking? This guy is lame.’ ”

McGraw reassured his men, though, and within a week of Niebrugge’s arrival in the fall of 2012, his demeanor had changed. He’d broken out of his shell and revealed himself, in Dougherty’s words, to be the “most upbeat, exciting outgoing guy” his teammates would quickly embrace (eventually earning the nickname “Knee-high” as a play off the beginning of his last name combined with his penchant for wearing high basketball socks).

Five years later, Gooch excitedly texted Niebrugge and Dougherty when he learned of their early pairing at Erin Hills.

Gooch and Dougherty may be the most intertwined of the Cowboys Six this week, as the pair ended up rooming together at Oklahoma State, and shared the distinction of having animal nicknames.

From left to right: Talor Gooch, Jordan Niebrugge and Kevin Dougherty. (Courtesy of Oklahoma State University Athletics)

Gooch, 25, was deemed “Moose” early on when upperclassman teammate Mark Johnson noticed the freshman was loud, breathing hard and displaying heavy feet – in other words, sounding like a moose – in team sprints.

The team often did 150-yard gassers at 6 a.m., and if a sprint wasn’t completed in a certain time, everyone had to run it again. Gooch’s moniker came from his dedication to avoid being the guy who piled on the misery.

“That’s why my nickname was ‘Moose,’ because I did whatever I could to not do any more sprints,” Gooch said.

Dougherty’s nickname, on the other hand, was given little critical thought. He was in his first team meeting freshman year when McGraw started talking to the squad about getting Dougherty a nickname.

Teammate Kevin Tway, paying little attention and dazing out the window, noticed a slug on a windowpane.

“He just screamed it out, and that’s how my nickname (‘Slug’) stuck,” said the 26-year-old Dougherty.

Another potential talking point on Thursday and Friday? The group’s old intramural basketball team.

The men’s golf squad formed an IM team, and after getting humbled in the A league, the group moved down to the B group and dominated for a short while. That is until Morgan Hoffmann rolled his ankle in the spring of 2011 playing pickup basketball – not even an IM game. He actually won the Southern Highlands Collegiate a couple weeks later, but the injury didn’t sit well with McGraw.

The basketball squad was to be disbanded.

“McGraw told us, ‘No more of that now,’ ” Gooch said. “It was fun but short-lasted.”

(The IM team would return in Niebrugge’s Cowboys tenure. By that time, the squad went by the name “Young Bloodz” – a reference to NBA star Kyrie Irving’s popular “Uncle Drew” series.)

With so many Oklahoma State players in one place, there’s a hope all or most can meet up at least one night and reminisce. Even if that can’t be arranged, there is a Cowboys happening in place.

When Gooch informed his comrades of their grouping, he told them an Oklahoma State theme in clothing would be in order for the second round (when the trio goes off No. 10 at 1:30 p.m. Eastern).

“Be ready for a lot of orange in that group (Friday),” Gooch said, with a chuckle.

When informed of the trio’s Friday orange-clad plan, Uihlein, who goes off No. 10 tee Thursday at 3:09 p.m. Eastern alongside Ben An and Matt Fitzpatrick before moving to No. 1 tee at 9:24 a.m. Eastern Friday, was excited.

But Uihlein, 27, is unsure if he’ll be able to join the party.

“I don’t know if I have any orange with me,” Uihlein said. “But I’ve got it on my bag and my grips already.”

Maybe the orange won’t will only apply to half the group Friday. Regardless, the Cowboy bond remains tight.

“People that don’t go there don’t understand the connection that all of us have,” Dougherty said. “We might not talk every day, but once we see each other, it’s like having another brother.”

Three brothers will tee off first on Thursday. What a special way to start the U.S. Open.

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