Jordan Niebrugge finishes as leading Open amateur

HIS moving day charge was built on a breakfast of protein pancakes but, on the final day, his challenge fell as flat as one. Paul Dunne recovered from a shaky start but it was a day when any stumble was fatal, as everyone else went after the Claret Jug like it was a widescreen tv on Black Friday.

Irishman Paul Dunne finds the going rough as he plays a shot at the 18th during the final round at St Andrews. Picture: Getty

In the clamour some were bundled to the side and the young Irishman, who was the first amateur since Bobby Jones in 1927 to lead the field going into the final round, was one of those trampled into the ground by the magnitude of what his afternoon could bring. He always knew he would leave without the £1.15 million prize money but he had fancied his place in history as the first amateur to win this major since 1930. The fall back was always the Silver Medal. In the end he couldn’t secure that either, American Jordan Niebrugge producing a final round 70 to lead the amateurs home.

“To get the Silver Medal in a major championship, especially at St Andrews. It’s definitely a dream come true,” said the Oklahoma State University student, who will delay turning professional for another year to allow him to graduate. For a while, as he clocked the leaderboard, he fancied his chances of perhaps winning. But like Dunne, the reality of that proved too much.

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Jordan Spieth has claimed an amateur can win a major within the next decade. His compatriot doesn’t disagree, even if he did come up short this time around.

“You see a lot of young guns coming up and playing really well, and I think that just gives all of us amateurs the most confidence,” said Niebrugge. “I grew up playing with a lot of the guys that are playing well right now on the PGA Tour and out here, and just gives me the most confidence. We’re not far behind.”

Having the game is one thing, coping with the pressure of being in contention in a major is another. Teeing off in the final group, alongside Louis Oosthuizen, Dunne left his approach shot short of the Swilken Burn and had to settle for a bogey. Things looked as glum as the grey skies when he then compounded that misery with a meltdown on the second tee, hitting a wayward shot, then a couple of wild provisionals. The original effort had gone wild and wide right, landing in the practice area. It was as lucky a break as he could have hoped for and he was eventually able to escape with another bogey.

Saying you won’t think about what is at stake and actually succeeding in banishing those thoughts can be very different things, especially when the galleries are hollering their support and the leaderboard serves as a constant reminder of the achievements. The 22-year-old from County Wicklow has been one of the tales of this tournament and there was little chance of sneaking under the radar yesterday. Everyone knew his name,

Of course, victory would never have furnished him with the prize money but what it would have delivered he surely coveted more. Planning to turn professional next year, the Irishman would have returned to the University of Alabama with a replica Claret Jug in his suitcase. It was a lot to push from his mind and as he climbed the slope up to the green on the second, he had already looked sapped of the belief and enthusiasm that had helped fuel him thus far and even a birdie on the third could not reinvigorate him sufficiently.

Out ahead of him there were experienced campaigners, adding birdie after birdie. Suddenly cast adrift, the subconscious must have switched from dreams of a win to simply leaving in possession of the Silver Medal. But this tournament has been rich with talented golfers all with that aim and until he double bogeyed the 15th it was Englishman Ashley Chesters who was prolonging his love 
affair with this town.

It was his successful defence of the European Amateur Championship at the Duke’s Course in St Andrews last August that had earned him a place at the The Open and led to him postponing thoughts of a switch to the professional ranks but, as he dropped back to nine under, joining Oliver Schniederjans, who had bowed out with a five under round of 67, it was left to Dunne and American Jordan Niebrugge to battle it out over the Old Course links in the hope of bettering that tally and taking the glory.

The front nine had brought Open debutant Niebrugge constant improvement. But it was a run of four birdies on the bounce, from the fourth that gave him an advantage that could not be overhauled. He briefly took his tournament score to 13 under with a birdie on the 14th but a bogey on the next cancelled that out.

But it wasn’t a day when Dunne could capitalise on that. He had added a second birdie at the fifth but suffering his way through the back nine, his aspirations might as well have been plugged in the infamous Road Hole bunker because there was no salvaging things. Four bogeys and a double bogey contributed to a six-over final round and left Dunne just fourth best amateur. The dream was good while it lasted.