ERIN, Wis. — Jordan Niebrugge was up early in the morning, a little nervous about the place in Erin Hills history that he would claim Thursday.

First tee shot in the first group in the first U.S. Open in Wisconsin — not bad for a home state kid.

The 26 year-old was 1 over on the front nine, bogeyed 15 and 16 and closed with a birdie for a 1-over 73.

With a tip of his white cap following a round of applause from fans at the 18th green, Niebrugge ended the long morning that started with a 6:45 a.m. tee time .

“You’re going to be nervous in any event, especially of this magnitude,” he said. “But playing in front of the home crowd, encouraging you every step of the way is pretty cool.”

There were a lot friends watching in the stands. Niebrugge’s family lives in Mequon, about 20 miles east of Erin. He drove past his alma mater, Homestead High School, this week and found a “good luck” message on an electronic signboard.

“Pretty cool stuff driving past this in my hometown!” he posted on Twitter .

Niebrugge fared well at the British Open two years ago, tying for sixth and earning a silver medal as the low amateur at St. Andrews. Unlike most of the other players this week, Niebrugge had some familiarity with Erin after having previously played the course.

“You know, it’s a lot warmer right now than when I’ve played in it. But we’re playing a couple boxes back,” he said. “It’s a long golf course, it’s tough, but it’s fair. I felt comfortable, yeah, all day.”

Playing in a group with Talor Gooch and Kevin Dougherty — his teammates in college in Oklahoma State — helped, too.

“I don’t know if we would have gone to say it was a practice round for college, but it was definitely comfortable out there once we kind of got going, and we were all playing pretty solid,” Niebrugge said.

After the early start Thursday, Niebrugge should have a little more time to rest for what should be a late tee time in the second round. But by the afternoon, about an hour or so after he was done with his opening round, Niebrugge was back on the driving range.


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GENARO C. ARMAS
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