British OpenJuly 16, 2015

There's a 21-year-old Jordan on the Open leader board whose last name isn't Spieth

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland -- Oklahoma State's Jordan Niebrugge -- the mysterious name on the leader board Thursday after shooting a five-under 67 -- took the road less traveled to the Open Championship. Less traveled that is for an American amateur.

Few of them these days make the effort to come to the U.K. to try their hand in British tournaments, the expense in time and money, and playing unfamiliar courses, making it an indulgence. Yet at the advice of his college coach, Alan Bratton, the 21-year-old from Mequon, Wis., committed to a trip across the Atlantic, playing the British Amateur at Carnoustie and the English Men's Amateur Stroke Play (Brabazon Trophy) before attempting to grab one of three spots available in a British Open final qualifier.

Sure enough, after losing in the first round of match play at the British Am and missing the cut at the Brabazon, the OSU senior-to-be earned a spot into the world's oldest tournament, claiming medalist honors at England's Hillside G.C. He then flew home and returned 10 days later to find himself in an unexpected place atop the Open leader board.

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"I just wanted to see what it was like," Niebrugge said on the decision to come play overseas, coming over with his father, Rod, and another Wisconsin native, Charlie Danielson, an All-American at Illinois. "I'd never been over here. I figured it was best for my game to experience this type of golf."

Casual fans may have heard of Niebrugge, who won the 2013 U.S. Amateur Public Links to earn an exemption into the 2014 Masters. He also played for the victorious U.S. Walker Cup team at National Golf Links of America in 2013.

Niebrugge's 67, the lowest opening-round score in an Open at St. Andrews by an amateur, was a marked improvement from the 81 he shot in the first round at Augusta National. He noted that the experience of playing there, as well as in the PGA Tour's John Deere Classic and the Walker Cup, helped him become more comfortable under pressure.

Wisconsin wouldn't seem to be a place where a player could simulate what it's like to play links golf, but Niebrugge says playing at Whistling Straits, where he practiced in the days leading up to the Open, and at Erin Hills both helped him feel comfortable.

"It's just kind of a cool way to play," Niebrugge said. "You have to use your imagination."

Niebrugge also got a sneak peak at Old Course during the British Amateur week. His caddie at Carnoustie was affiliated with a club that has access at St. Andrews, so they took a tour of the course.

By coming over to the U.K., Niebrugge potentially was hurting his chances at making the 2015 U.S. Walker Cup team as he was missing several marquee amateur events in the U.S. Niebrugge's father, however, said the trip was a learning experience that was too great to pass up.

"I think he's thinking more of the big picture," Rod said. "I think his goal is to be a professional golfer and that this would be a good way to help prepare for that."

Of course, playing well at St. Andrews might just work in Jordan's favor in trying to make the American team given that this year's Walker Cup is being played at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, another links course.

"Who knows what the rest of the week will be like," said Rod Niebrugge. "But today was pretty cool."

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