ROLAND, ARK. (Saturday, Aug. 3) - The demise of one star gave rise to two more Saturday on the first day of Match Play at the 111th Western Amateur at The Alotian Club.
Medalist Patrick Rodgers, 21, became the fourth Western Amateur stroke-play champion in the last five years to lose his opening match.
Recent North Florida graduate Sean Dale, 23, defeated Rodgers 2-up Saturday morning, then won his afternoon match 2-up over Texas A&M junior Tyler Dunlap thanks to four straight, back-nine birdies he used to overcome Dunlap's 2-up lead.
The victories put Dale into Sunday's quarterfinals and re-introduced his name to captain Jim Holtgrieve's consideration of his three pending Walker Cup selections.
The other star continuing to emerge this week is Jordan Niebrugge of Mequon, Wis. Niebrugge dominated his Oklahoma State teammate, Talor Gooch, 4 and 3 in their morning showdown then throttled Georgia Tech lefty Seth Reeves 3 and 1 in the afternoon.
Should Niebrugge win two more matches Sunday, he will have won three tournaments in three weeks: the U.S. Public Links, the Wisconsin State Amateur and the Western Amateur - the latter arguably having the best field and most grueling format in golf.
No wonder Niebrugge, 20, found himself seated next to Holtgrieve at Friday night's annual Sweet 16 dinner, where the two chatted about their mutual hometown of St. Louis and avoided direct Walker Cup discussion.
"We didn't really talk about Walker Cup at all," Niebrugge said. "He was born in St. Louis. I was born in St. Louis. We kind of talked about that, the country club I belonged to." Niebrugge moved to Wisconsin when he was six or seven years old. His father introduced him to golf at age three.
Niebrugge's performance means more to Holtgrieve than the lively art of dinner conversation, and on Saturday Niebrugge continued to dominate.
"I'm playing great, so I have a lot of confidence right now with the way I'm hitting the ball," he said. "And I've gained a lot confidence on the greens with [his caddie] Brent [hired on Friday]. With that combination, I just go out, try to beat the course and have a chance to win the match."
Niebrugge said that while some may marvel at his seemingly meteoric rise, the quality of his play has been consistent for some time.
"I don't think anything has 'just clicked'," said the pale, 6-foot 4-inch underclassman in response to a media question. "I've been hitting the ball great these last two years. Played great in the spring in college. The main thing has been putting and confidence. More and more confidence each week I play."
For Dale, his re-emergence at the Western Amateur has validated his decision to remain an amateur this summer.
"I stayed amateur this summer just for that fact I heard I had somewhat of a chance to make the [Walker Cup] team," Dale said. "Playing for your country...it's unexplainable how much it would mean to me to make that team."
It would mean as much to win the Western Amateur, he said.
"Everybody knows this is a top tournament - it's up there with the U.S. Am, if not a better field," Dale said. "It would mean the world if I could pull out a win tomorrow."
On Sunday, Dale and Texas junior Kramer Hickok tee off at 8 a.m., while Niebrugge faces off at 8:15 a.m. with the last remaining Arkansas Razorback in the field, Sebastian Cappelen, of Denmark.
Cappelen, 23, required 20 holes to defeat 17-year-old Robby Shelton in his morning match, making a couple of late birdies to force the match to extras. In the afternoon, he eliminated Carlos Ortiz, 22, of Mexico, 4 and 3, with relative ease.
Should Cappelen prevail on Sunday, he would be the second Razorback in three years to win the Western Amateur. Ethan Tracy defeated Patrick Cantlay in the final round of match play in 2011 at North Shore Country Club.
Hickok, 21, defeated his teammate Beau Hossler, 18, in their morning match 2 up. In the afternoon he made a hole-in-one on the 11th hole to take the lead for the first time on 15-year-old David Snyder and never trailed again in the match, winning 2 up. Hickok used an 8-iron for his 158-yard ace.
Seth Reeves also made a hole-in-one on the 11th hole in his morning match - a 167-yard 8-iron - to take the lead on Jonathan Garrick and go on to win 2 and 1.
The Alotian Club, Roland, Ark.
Saturday, Aug. 3
First Round Results
Sean Dale, Jacksonville, Fla., def. Patrick Rodgers, Avon, Ind., 2 up
Tyler Dunlap, Westlake, Texas, def. Cory McElyea, Santa Cruze, Calif., 20 holes
Kramer Hickok, Plano, Texas, def. Beau Hossler, Mission Viejo, Calif., 2 and 1
David Snyder, McAllen, Texas, def. Taylor Moore, Edmond, Okla., 5 and 3
Carlos Ortiz, Jalisco, Mexico, def. Keith Mitchell, Chattanooga, Tenn., 2 and 1
Sebastian Cappelen, Odense, Denmark, def. Robby Shelton IV, Wilmer, Ala., 20 holes
Jordan Niebrugge, Mequen, Wis., def. Talor Gooch, Midwest City, Okla., 4 and 3
Seth Reeves, Suwanee, Ga., def. Jonathan Garrick, Alberton, Calif., 2 and 1
Dale def. Dunlap, 2 up
Hickok def. Snyder, 2 up
Cappelen def. Ortiz, 4 and 3
Niebrugge def. Reeves, 3 and 1
Sunday, Aug. 4
8 a.m. - Dale vs. Hickok
8:15 a.m. - Cappelen vs. Niebrugge