OAKMONT, PENNSYLVANIA | David Nyfjäll only reached the round of 32 at last week’s U.S. Amateur, but it felt like the Northwestern senior spent a fortnight at Oakmont.
His wild journey started with a 2-over 72 during Monday’s first round of stroke play, which was one of the best rounds of the day at Oakmont. Nyfjäll’s second round, played on the much easier Longue Vue Club, was pushed back until Tuesday evening due to a lengthy rain delay – when he went to bed on Tuesday night, the Swede’s steady play on the front nine at Longue Vue had kept him well within the cut line for the match-play bracket.
From Wednesday morning forward, life got a lot more interesting for the piano enthusiast who had his girlfriend – a Northwestern cross country runner, who doesn’t play golf and had never previously caddied – on the bag for him.
Nyfjäll made three bogeys in his last seven holes, falling to 3-over 143. That mark left him tied for 64th with 11 other players, meaning there would be a 12-for-1 playoff to see who would advance to match play.
That playoff was originally supposed to commence at 12:40 p.m. on Wednesday, but another rain delay pushed it back several hours. When the rain had cleared, three foursomes took on the par-4 15th hole. Nyfjäll, in the last of those foursomes and knowing he needed a birdie to stay alive, matched Joe Alfieri and Nicholas Dunlap to pare it down to a 3-for-1 playoff.
A par on the second extra hole eliminated Alfieri and a par on the third extra hole took out Dunlap.
“On that back nine at Longue Vue, I thought I was in and then thought I was out, and then sitting in the restaurant (after the second round) I thought I was out for sure,” Nyfjäll said. “Then to make it to the 64 spot … it was a really, really crazy experience.”
The prize for winning such a match was a date with medalist Mark Goetz, a West Virginia standout who grew up in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, about 45 minutes southeast of Oakmont. Playing a road game of sorts, Nyfjäll fell 3 down through 14 holes and needed a miraculous turnaround against a player who had beaten him by 11 strokes during the first two days.
He got one and then some. Nyfjäll made pars on Nos. 15, 16 and 17 while Goetz made bogeys on all three, sending the match to all square to the final hole. On the par-4 18th, Nyfjäll made one of the few long putts of the tournament, pouring in a 25-footer to oust Goetz.
The drama continued into the round of 32 where Nyfjäll faced Ricky Castillo, the University of Florida All-American who went 4-0 in last May’s Walker Cup. Nyfjäll went 3 up through eight holes and held on to carry a 1-up lead into the 18th hole. Castillo birdied the final hole to send the match to a playoff, but the drama would be cut short on the 21st hole, when an apocalyptic thunderstorm descended upon Oakmont.
Now it was Friday morning, a full 48 hours since his struggles at Longue Vue put him into the 12-for-1 playoff. Just minutes after the restart, however, Nyfjäll had made a bogey and succumbed to Castillo.
The week had finally ended, but Nyfjäll made a lasting impression. The former Big 10 Freshman of the Year looked worn down emotionally as he talked about his experience, but knew the tournament would mean a lot to him moving forward.
“Walking down 18 yesterday against Ricky I realized I hadn't probably been this nervous for this long for a long time, or probably ever,” Nyfjäll said. “Obviously bummed to just fall short here, but looking back I'm sure I'll think of it as a good time.”