ROLAND — Sebastian Cappelen had a spot in the 111th Western Amateur championship match in his grasp Sunday, only to see it taken away by a perfect chip shot on The Alotian Club’s 17th hole from his opponent, Jordan Niebrugge. Then a loose swing on the 18th tee box did in the Arkansas Razorback golfer.
Niebrugge, an Oklahoma State golfer whose hometown is a Milwaukee suburb, took advantage of one of Cappelen’s rare bad drives of the week to win the semifinal match 1-up and move into the Western Am final against Sean Dale of Jacksonville, Fla.
Niebrugge and Dale were interrupted three times by lightning delays — the first time was just after their opening tee shots; the second came at 5:40 p.m. and the third at 6:08 with the golfers both on or near the No. 9 green and the match all square. Finally, because of more bad weather expected, the match was called for the day at 7 p.m.
The forecast for Monday was spotty, according to Vince Pelligrino, the WGA’s vice president for tournaments, but the championship will be resumed at 7 a.m. if the course can be prepared for play. Only Alotian members, staff and media will be allowed onto the course for the resumption of play.
By 6:40 p.m. Sunday, volunteers and most of the patrons had left the course. The club’s lightning detection system is activated by strikes 20 miles or closer to the course, and the concern was evacuating all the spectators. Heavy rain was falling north of Lake Maumelle after the final stoppage.
Cappelen and Niebrugge (pronounced “knee-brew-ghi”) staged an exciting match Sunday morning with constant momentum shifts, and neither golfer had more than a two-hole lead. On the par-five 14th, Cappelen seemed to regain the momentum with a gambling drive to the far right fairway across a creek, leading to a birdie to tie the match. Then he took the lead with a par on No. 15.
After the golfers halved the par-3 16th, Cappelen crushed a drive in the neighborhood of 335 yards, leaving just 245 to the pin on the par-five 17th. He continued to have the edge after their second shots, as his 4-iron landed about 10 yards over the green while Niebrugge faced a near-impossible chip shot from pin-high, five yards off the green to the left, with the pin on a tiny shelf of green on that side.
Cappelen’s flop shot stopped 10 feet from the hole, while Niebrugge’s soft bump and run rolled to within 3 feet of the hole. Cappelen missed his birdie; Niebrugge made his, and the match was tied.
“The way I saw it, I saw my chip a lot easier than his because I hit that chip he had in the practice rounds with the greens even slower than this, and I putted it too, and I thought it was almost impossible,” Cappelen said. “I got a couple of balls to stop up on the tier where the pin was, but the way he hit it he got it to barely trickle on the green.
“It was absolutely perfect the way he played it. He couldn’t have done it any different. A little softer and it would’ve been short of the green. A little harder and it would have been all the way down.”
Niebrugge, now with the teeing honor, safely found the fairway on the 505-yard par-4 18th. Cappelen hooked his drive into the woods well left of the fairway and up against a tree.
“I guess I completely missed my timing,” he said. “The swing didn’t actually feel that bad. I guess I must have swing with my arms before my hips or something. And honestly I think it’s from such a long tournament, my body’s tired.”
His only recourse after finding the ball sitting about four inches in front of a tree was to chip backward into the fairway, still leaving a 243-yard third shot.
“I absolutely had no shot,” Cappelen said, joking, “I thought about hitting on the driving range but I had no idea how far it was from down there.”
Trying to repeat the blistering 4-iron from about the same distance that he hit on No. 17, his third shot came off the clubface weakly and settled in the rough 30 yards short and right of the hole. Niebrugge all but finished it with a 225-yard second shot to within 10 feet, and Cappelen’s all-or-nothing flop shot had the correct distance but caromed to the left. With a bogey not even certain, the Razorback conceded the match.
“That’s what I’ve got to keep in mind, I played a great round today, too. I can’t let one hole be the reason why I’m not happy about this because obviously it’s great just to make it to the final four,” Cappelen said. “I only have positive things coming off this round today. I just got to take that with me and try to get ready for the [U.S. Amateur].”
Many of the 156 golfers who competed this week at Alotian will be in the field for the U.S. Amateur at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass. Cappelen, a native of Denmark, was a member of the European team in the Palmer Cup and automatically exempt from sectional qualifying.
The Americans in Sunday’s final four — Dale defeated Texas golfer Kramer Hickok 2 up in the other semifinal — hope that a Walker Cup invite is in the offing. Cappelen would surely put in a good word for Niebrugge.
“Jordan, he’s very good. He’s got his game and he knows what his game is, he knows what shots you can hit. He knows exactly where his putter’s rolling. He had great speed on these greens, which is an important factor,” Cappelen said. “And he played great today, too. I think we were a really good match and he got the break on the last one.”
Meanwhile, the Razorback golf team under Coach Brad McMakin — he regularly texted Cappelen leading up to the semifinal with support — had an impressive showing during the week. Senior Joe Doramus and sophomore Nicolas Echavarria reached the third round after the top 44-and-ties cut, while sophomore Taylor Moore and Cappelen made the Sweet Sixteen.
“I think we have a good advantage here because this course is a lot shaped like what we usually play on at The Blessings [in Johnson, outside Fayetteville],” Cappelen said. “Same grass type, same greens, kind of the same green complexes. But this seems easier to us because it’s a lot wider off the tee. But I have to say the last couple of rounds here they haven’t cut the rough, so it makes sense to hit the fairway now where it didn’t the first couple of rounds. It’s a guess in the dark from the rough right now.”
Even worse was finding the woods with the match on the line Sunday.