Homestead boys golf coach Steve O'Brien reflects on his time at the Masters
He served as an adviser to former Highlander Jordan Niebrugge
Homestead boys golf coach Steve O'Brien laughs and says there is no truth to the rumors that he has started mumbling the following words in his sleep:
"It is customary here at Augusta National..."
But let's just say that after a week of serving as an informal adviser to former Highlander state champion Jordan Niebrugge after Niebrugge's recent historic participation in the Masters' Golf Tournament, the words may have become an ear-worm in O'Brien's head.
It included being told he could not wear shorts while watching Niebrugge hit on the driving range (O'Brien had to borrow a pair of rain pants for the event) or that during practice rounds at the Augusta National Golf Club, no swing coaches or any other members of a players' entourage may be inside the ropes other than his caddie.
"I was asked to leave the driving range until I found a pair of pants," O'Brien said.
There were some-1,000 other little niggly rules at this most exclusive of events, one that the 20-year old Niebrugge qualified for by winning the US Amateur Public Links Championship last summer (it was part of a spectacular period where he won four tournaments statewide and national).
There were of course, perks brought about from O'Brien's association with Niebrugge, such as driving down fabled Magnolia Lane in Niebrugge's complimentary (for the week) Mercedes SUV and the visit where Niebrugge stayed during his highly coveted week down in Augusta, Ga.
"'The Crow's Nest' is at the top of the main clubhouse (at Augusta) and that's where the amateurs stay," O'Brien said. "It's extremely limited access, but Jordan was able to stay there three nights. It was just big enough to fit his suitcase and an extra set of clubs.
"There are six rooms up there with a small bed. Jordan is 6-4 (in height) so his feet tended to hang out over the edge of the bed and all he had was this one small little dresser, but just the history behind all this was so impressive. It was a unique opportunity to be up there."
As it was to be part of the whole week.
The Niebrugge family asked the veteran Highlanders coach to come along as part of the support team. O'Brien was Niebrugge's coach when he won the WIAA state individual golf title in 2012 for Homestead, and has remained close with Niebrugge, who is at Oklahoma State University on a golf scholarship.
And though there were so many maddening little rules at Augusta, things that players, staff and fans do not have to put up with at any other PGA Tour event, there is the sheer honor of being in a place where people like Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Phil Mickelson have made history.
Take for instance what happened the night of the annual Champion's Dinner.
"It's about 15 minutes before it's supposed to start and we're none the wiser, just trying to walk up to 'The Crow's Nest,'" said O'Brien, "and we walk past this area and they're all there (the former champions). You see, we had to go through the dining hall and it's 6:45 p.m. and all the tables are set and there are name tags and the guys are all there.
"Fred Couples actually said hello and wished Jordan good luck. Here we are, just trying to get to his room and we wind up hob-knobbing with the winners."
Ah, such is the life.
Niebrugge also got to spend time with fellow 20-year old Jordan Spieth, who was taking the tournament by storm for a time before settling for second place behind now two-time champion Bubba Watson.
"He and Spieth had a chance to talk," O'Brien said. "They actually know each other through American Junior Golf Association events. Spieth is just a touch older. A very impressive kid."
There were countless other memories, including Niebrugge's practice round with Wisconsin native Steve Stricker and his time spent with well-known PGA pro Boo Weekley ("He just talks the entire time you're playing with him. A real character who's a lot of fun to be around," said O'Brien).
Zach Johnson, another former Masters champion, also reached out and helped Niebrugge, too.
"As a learning experience for Jordan, this was off the charts," O'Brien said. "We can see that he's not too far behind, that he can go as far as he desires playing with the best."
O'Brien, like everyone else who watched Niebrugge, said he didn't play badly, but that a couple of Masters' rookie mistakes caught up with him each day, especially on the par 3 12th hole where he took a triple bogey during his first day 18-hole score of 81 and then a bogey on his second day 74.
"I'm being extremely honest, I thought he hit it very well," said O'Brien, "and he really didn't hit all that much better the second day (when he was seven shots better). He just caught a few unlucky breaks. His (Oklahoma State) coach Alan Bratton (who was his caddie) was very pleased how it all came out."
Niebrugge finished 18th in driving distance for the first two rounds and did pick up two birdies on the second day after making none on the first.
"He was right there," O'Brien said. "It's just that this course can be so penal (for even a slightly wayward shot). It can be extremely intimidating."
After he missed the cut, Niebrugge and everyone else in his group stayed around to watch the end of the tournament and see what it took to win an event of this caliber. Bratton and Niebrugge had to head back to Oklahoma State as Niebrugge had classes early last week
"He was even working on some assignments (during the week) and was finishing them on the car ride back to school," O'Brien said.
But how can everyday life compare once you've been to Augusta?
"I told everyone on the way back 'I'd never go back there again without Jordan' and I hope he gets the chance to play there again and again," O'Brien said. "Something like this is just going to inspire and motivate him. You knew right away how much he wanted to be out there."
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