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Team-oriented Niebrugge leads surging Highlanders to strong finishes

He medals in four straight events

May 15, 2012

Mequon - Homestead golfer Jordan Niebrugge is having a dream season, medaling in meet after meet, most notably in four straight 18-hole events last week in a hectic and successful schedule for the rapidly improving Highlanders.

But as he says, it's not just him out there, everyone has to do well to make the team succeed.

"Every shot counts, every putt's important to the team," he said.

That attitude explains everything when you ask Highlanders coach Steve O'Brien when it was that Niebrugge appeared to be his happiest this spring. O'Brien has a ready-made answer to the query, as he points back to the van ride back home from Hidden Glen on May 10, after Homestead, behind Niebrugge's individual medalist honors, claimed the team title in the inaugural Cedarburg Invitational.

"He said it was the first invitational that we had won with him on the team," O'Brien said. "Jordan sets high goals for himself and the team. He simply wants to win. He likes to win individually, because he knows it will help the team.

"This is not an individual sport for him. His determination to bring us along is phenomenal. … His attitude after that Cedarburg meet speaks volumes as to what kind of person he is."

Niebrugge, who will get the opportunity to continue playing with that same team mentality when he heads to Oklahoma State on scholarship next fall, says that it all makes the game more fun for him.

"I think there may have been an invitational that we may have won my freshmen year, but I'm not sure," he said, "but to get a big win like that is amazing. I'm friends with a lot of the other seniors this year and I knew we had a good freshmen coming in (in Charlie Maleki).

"All the spots are filled and these guys are working more than any other team (in the previous three years). Instead of just going out and playing every day, we're actually working hard on drills, especially those around the green. All of us are long off the tee and have good iron games, but once we get our short games going, there's no limit to what we can achieve."

A defense of their North Shore Conference title at the league 18-hole finale on Friday at Washington County would be huge start, followed by the WIAA regional and sectional meets and, hopefully, another team berth in the WIAA state tournament.

The Highlanders, Niebrugge, Maleki, Nick Mueller, Matt Mitman and Sam Enea, with help from David Anderson and Zach Shahrokhi, gained respect with their stamina and their fine play last week.

Erin Hills

They started the week with a close second to powerful Brookfield Central at a quadrangular meet at imposing Erin Hills on May 9 as Niebrugge earned medal number one with an 18-hole score of 72. They followed that with a season-best 18-hole team total of 307 in laying claim to that elusive team win in the Cedarburg meet as Niebrugge shot a sizzling 33 on the front nine en route to a 70.

Then at the WPGA event on May 11 at Dretzka Park, they came up four shots short of Central again in taking second in an 11-team field, as Niebrugge was six shots clear of the field with a 71.

And finally, with two other members of the regular varsity group resting, the Highlanders earned a tie for second in the 21-school Kaz Invite on May 12 at New Berlin Hills as Niebrugge won by three shots with a 71.

Pleasantly surprised by team

O'Brien said that having the big number one out there has been extraordinarily helpful but with Niebrugge working with a new set of teammates, he didn't know what kind of team season the Highlanders were facing.

To say he's been surprised is a bit of an understatement.

"My thinking was, was that maybe by the end of the year we could be competitive and maybe give ourselves a chance at state," O'Brien said, "but to have moved as quickly as this group has. To have advanced this far has been a huge surprise."

"I know I keep bragging about this team, but I've been hard-pressed to find a better group of guys than this team. I have been blessed with such great guys this year and they are just taking the bar higher and higher. They are just working and working.

"It's why we are where we are."

And as a result, Homestead is playing a great game of follow-the-leader, as Niebrugge doesn't mind being the example everyone wants to emulate.

"I think a lot of the guys do feed off me," he said. "They try to get me. Last week Nick (Mueller) posted this great score at the Quad meet and he had a big smile on his face, thinking he had beaten me (he actually finished one shot back).

"… It's been a lot of fun being with this group. Everyone has been grinding it out every day and now we're playing well every day. … I think it's just cool this way thinking about high school golf (and the team aspect to it). I think I have been on three full new teams each year and each one has been great in its own way.

"It's a fun twist to golf."

TEEING UP A TITLE

Highlanders aim for another league title.

Best scores of the week: Aside from Jordan Niebrugge, the following golfers did well for Homestead this past week. The Kaz: team score: 316 (Enea 80 and Maleki 82); WPGA: team score: 324 (Maleki 80 and Mueller 82); Cedarburg: team score: 307 (Mueller and Maleki 77 apiece); Erin Hills: team score: 314 (Mueller 73 and Maleki 81)

Character building: Coach Steve O'Brien is an old farm kid, who still helps his dad from time to time on the family spread in Eden, about 45 minutes north of Mequon. He also occasionally brings his golfers out there for a bit of a humility lesson. That will happen again Saturday when they all go to pick rocks from his dad's fields. O'Brien likes to use it as a team building experience but he says his kids get a big kick out of what kind of life their coach used to live.

"They have a blast doing it and they also get to make fun of me, too," O'Brien said.

"It's also a lot of fun with the guys," laughed Niebrugge.

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