ST ANDREWS, Scotland (Reuters) - If Oliver Schniederjans had been offered a nine-under par finish at a weather-ravaged British Open he would have signed instantly thinking the silver medal for best amateur was in the bag.
Yet the American played second fiddle to compatriot Jordan Niebrugge who finished two shots better off for a tied sixth place finish -- earning an exemption into next year's tournament.
Both finished in the top 12 while Ireland's Paul Dunne began the fourth round co-leader and threatening to become the first amateur to win golf's oldest major since Bobby Jones 85 years ago.
Dunne's challenge faded on the homeward nine but the 144th British Open will be remembered as much for the fearless amateurs as much as Zach Johnson's playoff victory.
Schniederjans, who joins the professional ranks on Tuesday, carded a final round 67 to roar up the leaderboard while deep into the final day Dunne, Niebrugge, England's Ashley Chesters were still going toe-to-toe with the paid ranks.
France's Romaine Langasque also finished below par.
What might look like an anomaly could become quite common according to Schniederjans -- whose plain blue jumper will soon be decorated with the names of sponsors.
The world's top-ranked amateur in 2014 said the American college scene is so strong, most of the top players on it would hold their own or even challenge for majors.
American Jordan Spieth, who came close to making it three successive major wins before fading late on, even suggested an amateur would win a major, soon.
"You have to learn how to handle so much, stay organized, and then you go around and you travel and you play some very difficult courses set up very difficult," Georgia Tech graduate Schniederjans told reporters.
"They put the pins tough. You play in tough conditions. You play tough courses against the other best amateurs in the world, and you also have to handle your school obligations.
"You've got to learn how to manage your life, and when you're done with school, it feels like this is easy, I can manage everything else in life, I don't have to do schoolwork."
The 22-year-old was given exemptions to the U.S. Open and the British Open this year, providing he stayed amateur.
Asked whether he was tempted to turn pro before and try to qualify and start earning, he was unequivocal.
"No, I really wanted these experiences in two majors, and I'm absolutely thrilled that I decided to do that," he said.
"I think it's developed my game. I think it's developed me. Now I feel like I'm ready to be out here."
editing by Justin Palmer