Amateur roundtable: 2013 storylines

Jordan Niebrugge after helping the U.S. win the 2013 Walker Cup.

It's time to look back at the 2013 amateur-golf season. Our experts, Ron Balicki (@WrongRon), Julie Williams (@GolfweekJules) and Cassie Stein (@GolfweekCassie), tackle five questions, including who was the amateur player of the year, which player had the most surprising year and more.

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Who would you name as your amateur player of the year (male and female)?

Ron: There were some very good performances throughout the year, but as far as my male amateur player of the year goes, I have to go with Jordan Niebrugge. He dominated both on the national level as well as in his home state of Wisconsin. After finishing 11th at the Sunnehanna Amateur he went on a tear – winning the Wisconsin Match Play Amateur, finishing as medalist and going on to win the U.S. Amateur Public Links, winning the Wisconsin State Amateur and then capturing the Western Amateur after placing third in the 72-hole qualifying portion of the event. He advanced to match play at the U.S. Amateur and then went 2-2-0 in helping lead the U.S. to victory in the Walker Cup. He closed out his amateur year by placing fifth at the Spirit International. Quite a summer no doubt for the current Oklahoma State sophomore.

Julie: I’d go with Matthew Fitzpatrick and Annie Park. Fitzpatrick, obviously, won the U.S. Amateur at the historic Country Club of Brookline in Boston, but he also was the low amateur at the Open Championship at Muirfield. He’s the top player in the World Amateur Ranking, and a gritty, if physically unimposing, Englishman. As for Park, I have to admit that I didn’t see the postseason sweep coming in her first semester at USC. I thought she’d be a reliable counter for the team, but not the college player of the year. Combine that with co-medalist honors at the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links, going bogey-free in 36 holes of U.S. Women’s Open qualifying and advancing to the quarterfinals at the U.S. Women’s Amateur, and Park was a big factor in women’s amateur golf this summer.

Cassie: On the men’s side, Matthew Fitzpatrick. First he qualified for The Open Championship and then was low amateur of the tournament and won the silver medal. Then he proceeded to win the U.S. Amateur at the age of 18 and became the first Englishman since 1911 to hoist the Havemeyer trophy. His summer didn’t stop there. Before starting at Northwestern this fall, he represented GB&I at the Walker Cup, where he went 3-1. What a summer it was and this is only the start of Fitzpatrick. On the women’s side, Ashlan Ramsey won three consecutive tournaments at the beginning of the summer to put on an impressive show. She won the Georgia Women’s Match Play Championship, the Women’s Eastern Amateur Championship and the Western National Amateur Championship. Two of the three were match-play titles. Very impressive for a player who wasn’t in college yet.

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What player had the most surprising year on the amateur circuit (male and female)?

Ron: Basically it’s see above and the accomplishments of Jordan Niebrugge. While Niebrugge had a decent freshman season at Oklahoma State and had played well in his state competitions, he was hardly known for any major amateur accomplishments. That changed in a hurry from early on in the summer and turned him into a U.S. Walker Cup selection.

Julie: Jordan Niebrugge’s summer was outstanding, but seemingly came out of left field. Niebrugge really came into his own on the amateur circuit, winning the U.S. Amateur Public Links, the Western Amateur and both the Wisconsin Stroke Play and Match Play Championships on his way to a Walker Cup selection. I like Niebrugge’s demeanor, too – calm and collected. It’s probably a big reason for his success. On the women’s side, it was Ashlan Ramsey. It’s always interesting to watch how players transition from junior golf to the next level. In her final summer before college, Ramsey expanded her schedule and was very successful. She won the Georgia Women’s Stroke Play and Match Play titles, as well as the Women’s Western and Women’s Eastern. She was runner-up at the Trans National Amateur. The talent wasn’t surprising, it was just that everywhere Ramsey went, she was winning (and that continued in college as she won two of her first four events). Ramsey’s soft-spoken nature belies her competitiveness and her talent.

Cassie: Jordan Niebrugge came out of nowhere this summer, but made a name for himself pretty quickly. He won the Wisconsin Match Play Amateur, the Wisconsin State Amateur, the U.S. Public Links and the Western Amateur – all within in a six-week span. That was good enough for U.S. captain Jim Holtgrieve to give him a spot on the Walker Cup team in September. Emma Talley won the U.S. Women’s Amateur after having a mediocre start to her freshman year. She then turned it on in the spring – when the Tide needed it most – and it translated to her summer play. It paid off at the Amateur and now she’s a USGA champion.

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The U.S. took back the Walker Cup after losing it at Royal Aberdeen in 2011. Which American Walker Cupper was the most valuable player?

Ron: I would have to have co-MVPs on this one with both Bobby Wyatt and Michael Kim sharing the honor. The two were undefeated in leading the U.S. to an impressive 17-9 victory. Wyatt rolled up a 3-0-1 record while Kim was a perfect 3-0-0.

Julie: Based on play alone, it’s a toss-up between Michael Kim (3-0-0) and Bobby Wyatt (3-0-1). If we’re talking about sheer memorability, however, then I say Nathan Smith (1-1-0). All the noise about the mid-amateur mandate leading up to the Walker Cup put Smith and Todd White in a pretty unenviable position. Given that situation, it was cool to watch Smith not only win his first singles point in three tries, but win when it was the cup-defining point. And what a post-round interview. There were enough cameras and recorders in his face that day to make it feel like a Tour event, but Smith was impressively composed and witty. From a journalist’s perspective, it stands out.

Cassie: Bobby Wyatt. Not only did he play all four sessions and go undefeated (3-0-1), he and his Alabama teammate Cory Whitsett had a huge momentum swing for the U.S. in the first match of the Walker Cup. Wyatt made a 4-footer for birdie on 18 to halve the match and secure a half-point for the Americans. That was only the start. He went on to defeat GB&I’s Neil Raymond twice in singles play, and took down Nathan Kimsey and Max Orrin again.

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The semifinals of the U.S. Amateur consisted of an entirely international foursome. What, if anything, does that say about the state of amateur golf?

Ron: I think it says what most followers of amateur golf have known for quite some time -- the game is global and there are plenty of very talented players in every part of the world. Like with the pros, this can only be a healthy thing for the amateur game.

Julie: With so many big-name American collegians in that field (Justin Thomas, Bobby Wyatt, Cory Whitsett, Patrick Rodgers), I was surprised that an American didn’t crack the semifinals. It truly is a global game, and Matthew Fitzpatrick was an outstanding winner.

Cassie: It’s really, really good. Obviously, the internationals have always had the game to compete globally, but this just shows that they mean business, especially since three different countries were represented (Canada, England and Australia) at the U.S. Am. The same thing happened at the British Amateur Championship when American Jim Liu made it to the semifinals. Golf is a global game and it only continues to grow worldwide.

• • •

Ellen Port won her second consecutive U.S. Women’s Senior Amateur at CordeValle in San Martin, Calif., also the sixth USGA title of her career. The women’s record is eight championships. Will Port to break this record? If so, when?

Ron: She will set a new women’s record and surpass the current mark of eight USGA championships. She has proven she still has plenty of game and should be a chief contender in the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur and USGA Senior Amateur. I can see Port setting the new level of excellence in 2015.

Julie: Port, at 52, has a lot of good years left. I think she’ll reach (and likely surpass) eight in the next two or three years. Those will probably be Women’s Senior Amateur titles, but I think Port still has the game to win a Women’s Mid-Amateur, too. In the meantime, Port is a good fit to lead the U.S. at the Curtis Cup because she’s energetic, competitive and knowledgeable. She’s also humble – I liked this quote she gave the USGA after winning the 2013 Women’s Senior Am (in reference to other players who have won lots of USGA championships like Tiger Woods, Bob Jones and Jack Nicklaus): “I don’t put myself up at their level because they’re the greatest in the game at their level. But, I’m very blessed in what I’ve been able to accomplish in a short time, and I’m thrilled.”

Cassie: Port has been at the top of her game for a while now. Just this year, she showed she can compete at the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur and USGA Senior Amateur. If not by the end of next year, 2015 will be the year Port shows she is one of the best women’s amateurs to ever play the game.

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