Summer vacation? Not for talented Northeast Am field

Jordan Niebrugge is one of the top players in this week's Northeast Amateur field.

RUMFORD, R.I. – School’s out. Now the work begins. Or is it the start of the fun? Turns out, if you’re an amateur golfer who plays among those in the top tier, you need to be careful not to let the line get blurred.

“You can overdo it, yeah," Jordan Niebrugge said. "I think last year I might have played a little too much.”

True, the kid from Mequon, Wis., had a tough time sitting anything out in the summer of 2013, because he won just about everything he entered (Wisconsin State Amateur, U.S. Amateur Public Links, Western Amateur), a reality that led Nathan Smith to laugh. “After this week, it becomes the summer Jordan has to defend every week,” Smith said as he and Niebrugge had lunch after Round 1 of the 53rd annual Northeast Amateur.

It is as major a feel as one can get on the amateur circuit, this brilliant tournament at a gem of a golf course, Wannamoisett Country Club, and Niebrugge gave it careful consideration before he added it to his schedule for the first time. “I had never played here, but I heard from a lot of guys and some teammates (at Oklahoma State) that you have to get out here, that it’s a great one.”

With two bogeys and a birdie on each side and a round of 2-over 71, Niebrugge conceded that the 6,732-yard golf course was all he could handle on a day when the wind kicked up and Wannamoisett’s small, fast greens were a challenge, as was the rough. Still, he was thrilled that he had followed so much advice and arrived to play in a tournament that boasts a roll call of winners such as Ben Crenshaw, Scott Hoch, John Cook, Hal Sutton, Jay Sigel, Brett Quigley, David Duval, Notah Begay III, Jonathan Byrd, Luke Donald, Anthony Kim, Dustin Johnson and Peter Uihlein.

“I just had a little break, the longest one in about two years,” Niebrugge said. “So it’s nice to be out playing again at such a great place.”

Let the record show, his “break” lasted two weeks.

Yes, indeed, the world in which these top-echelon amateurs live is a busy one – especially in the short summer, with so many options that it seems like work to decide where to play and where not to play.

Last week, for instance, you had the choice between the Monroe Invitational, the Sunnehanna Amateur or the Southeastern Amateur. The Northeast Amateur is a must for many, but it comes this week opposite the British Amateur and the Rice Planters Amateur. Coming up is a week when both the North & South Amateur and the Sahalee Players will conflict, then comes a week when the Trans-Mississippi Golf Championship overlaps with The Players Amateur which overlaps with the Magnolia Amateur, and then . . .

Well, you get the point. It is isn’t easy. The ol’ “too many tournaments, too little time” quandary.

But Gavin Hall offers a shrug, a smile and a laugh. You won’t hear him talking about this amateur circuit business as work. “Come on, it’s a lot of fun,” Hall said. “You see a lot of guys deciding between four, or five, or six events, but we’re pretty spoiled. We play great courses and get treated great.”

Managing his game well, Hall, fresh off of a steady freshman year at Texas, opened with a 70 on a day when scoring opportunities were rare. So tough was Wannamoisett that the best score came from the last pairing, as the wind finally had relented.

Stewart Jolly, yet another talented kid from the state of Alabama who had a sparkling junior season at LSU, birdied his last two hole to shoot 2-under 67.

One of three members of next week's Palmer Cup team who are teeing it up this week (with Bryson Dechambeau and Anthony Maccaglia), Jolly parred his first nine holes, birdied the 10th, bogeyed No. 15, the birdied the 17th (Wannamoisett's only par 5) and 18th.

Until then, the lead had been shared by four at 68:

• Adam Schenk, his Purdue career recently concluded, birdied the par-3 15th and eagled the par-5 17th.

• Hans Reimer, who recently finished his collegiate career at Mercer.

• Blake Morris of Waterbury, Conn., who attends Mississippi.

• And Kurt Kitayama of UNLV, who actually had the outright lead at 67 before taking a one-stroke penalty at his ninth hole, No. 18. After marking his ball, Kitayama, of Chino, Calif., started to move away when he dropped his putter onto the marker and moved it. He played the rest of the way knowing he’d likely absorb a penalty, which officials confirmed before he signed for 68.

Clancy Waugh, who started on the back nine, had it to 3 under at the turn, but squandered three strokes coming in (a double at the 505-yard par-4 second, a bogey at the par-4 seventh). Still, at level-par 69, Wake Forest sophomore is tied with Bailey Patrick of Charlotte, N.C., for sixth.

The logjam at 70 consisted of 10 players, including the personable Hall. While he appreciates the array of choices for players of his caliber, this week is a no-brainer and so was last week. The kid from Pittsford, N.Y., played in the Monroe, “my hometown event.” He has played in the Sunnehanna, at Johnstown, Pa., and raves about it, “but it’s not many times when you can play in an event and sleep in your own bed.”

Ah, home sweet home. It’s a foreign concept these days for Reimers, whose collegiate tale is a unique one. Having settled on the University of Portland, the kid from Lake Oswego, Ore., was stunned when the golf program was dropped. What came into play was the “friend of a friend” network, and he went from the Pacific Northwest to the Southeast.

To Mercer.

That’s right, Mercer.

“If you had told me when I first started college that I’d attend Mercer, I’d have said no way. I’d have called you a liar,” Reimers said with a laugh.

Crazy, but he settled in nicely at the Macon, Ga., school, enjoyed it immensely and now that he has graduated, Reimers will pursue a career as a professional golfer. “Friends who turned pro told me it’s the best decision they ever made. I’ve played pretty well the last few years (he won the 2013 Oregon State Open), and if I didn’t give it a try, I’d regret it.”

With eyes set on the PGA Tour qualifying tournament this fall, Reimers will remain an amateur for the summer, so he has embarked upon “the circuit.” His decision to play in the Sunnehanna last week and this week’s Northeast Amateur required a lot of driving from Georgia, but it will prove to be just a tuneup compared with what’s up next.

When the Northeast Amateur ends, Reimers will point his car toward the Pacific Northwest so that he can be there in time for the Sahalee Players Championship (June 30-July 2).

Nothing like a little Rumford, R.I. to Sammamish, Wash., jaunt to prove you’ve got passion for the game, eh? Reimers laughed, and when asked how one drives such a route, he shook his head. “Just put the iPhone in and follow the directions.”

Which pretty much sounds like what a lot of these young players are doing, given more than enough options to quench their competitive desires.

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