GLENVIEW, Illinois — There has never been a doubt about Jordan Niebrugge’s talent. When you are low amateur in the British Open, win a USGA championship and make two Walker Cup teams, there’s no ambiguity about whether you have what it takes to make it to the highest level.
Niebrugge, who grew up in Mequon and played his formative golf in Wisconsin — winning both the State Amateur and State Open before he turned 20 — isn’t quite there yet. He’s playing on the Web.com Tour, one step below the PGA Tour.
But longtime golf observers who have seen his textbook swing, his explosive power and his even-keel temperament on the course say it is just a matter of time. His swing coach, San Diego-based Adam Porzak, calls him “a top-10 talent in the world.”
“We all know what he’s capable of,” Porzak said. “We all know where he should be. He knows that, too, and sometimes that adds a little bit of pressure. Right now, we’re just finding that recipe for success and I truly believe he’s doing the right things.”
On Thursday, the 25-year-old Niebrugge shot a solid 1-under 71 in windy conditions in the first round of the Evans Scholars Invitational at The Glen Club. It’s his sixth consecutive tournament week; he is coming off a tie for 27th place in the Knoxville Open.
“Last week was a step in the right direction, with only making five bogeys in the four days,” Niebrugge said. “So that’s great. I’m just trying to trend in the right direction. I’m playing good golf.”
This is Niebrugge’s second year on the Web.com Tour. He also played in a handful of events on the Mackenzie Tour-Canada in 2018, winning the Freedom 55 Financial Open. He’s had moderate success but hasn’t had the big breakthrough everyone believes is coming.
“At this point,” Porzak said, “it’s truly just finding his recipe.”
By that, he means a comfort level that will allow Niebrugge to play his best golf. Learning how to best prepare for tournaments, construct goal-oriented practices, conserve energy for weekends and turn 71s into 67s is a process. Some golfers – Brooks Koepka, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy, to name a few – figure it out early.
But Niebrugge is still young and there’s nothing in his swing that needs fixing. He came out of Oklahoma State with a PGA Tour-caliber move.
“We’re looking deeper than golf swing,” Porzak said. “As far as golf swing, I think he’s won every single tournament this year, in my opinion. His swing is that good. It’s awesome. Anybody out there would tell you the same.
“These guys who go to great schools like Oklahoma State, Georgia, Texas … they have a system that works for the team and then all of a sudden, they’re an individual. They need to re-invent their system and I think he’s in the process of doing that right now.”
Niebrugge ranks 11th on the Web.com Tour in driving distance with a 309.8-yard average and is 28th in greens in regulation, but he is 86th in scoring average and 138th in scrambling, which suggests he isn’t taking full advantage of his superior power.
“We know he’s a very long hitter and he’s going to have a lot of shots close to the green,” said Porzak, who also works with Beau Hossler and Lee McCoy. “My thing is, it’s very easy to say ‘Let’s hit it straight.’ Forget that. Let’s just get up and down more often when you don’t.
“We’re shifting the equation from trying to be perfect out here to catering to the 90 percent of the time when we’re not.”
On Thursday, Niebrugge birdied both par-5s on the front nine and hit a superb second shot into the 540-yard 14th, setting up a 3-foot eagle putt. He nearly drove the green on the 369-yard 15th but chunked a 20-yard pitch shot and had to settle for par.
He also missed a 7-foot birdie putt on the par-3 17th and his second shot on the par-5 18th came up short in a water hazard, leading to a bogey.
“Just battling, really,” he said. “On a day like today when the wind is blowing, it’s just a battle. You kind of throw everything out the window. Just be athletic and hit shots.”
Niebrugge won the 2013 U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship, played in the 2014 Masters, tied for sixth in the 2015 British Open and tied for 35th in the 2017 U.S. Open at Erin Hills. He’s performed on the biggest stages.
In order to make it to the PGA Tour, though, he’ll need to finish among the top 25 money winners on the Web.com Tour or finish among the top 25 in cumulative points in the three finals events.
Porzak is a believer.
“I couldn’t love this guy any more,” he said. “I couldn’t love working for him any more. He’s absolutely one of the coolest guys I’ve ever been around. Nicest family ever.
“Now, we need to get more out of him.”