Nichols Overcomes More Than Just A Club Member
By Ken Klavon, USGA
Fort Worth, Texas – It sounds peculiar but Randy Nichols had to overcome two opponents Monday in the first round of match play.
Nichols defeated 62-year-old Denny Alexander and local knowledge on the sun-soaked Shady Oaks Country Club course. Nichols, 55 and from Connorsville, Ind., had no idea who he was playing in his 1-up victory.
“That guy had local knowledge or something,” said Nichols in the locker room afterward. “He was just so good and really knew the greens.”
As the adage goes, knowledge is power. Alexander had the advantage. After all, he’s a long-time member of Shady Oaks Country Club and has been serving as the chairman of the championship for the club.
Alexander employed the services of his son, Jeff Alexander, as caddie. Nichols, on the other hand, eschewed someone to lug his bag and opted for a cart.
Nichols said he hesitates to use a caddie he’s unfamiliar with because they don’t know his game. But he admitted he could use a lesson on the unforgiving, contoured greens. At least six times he left putts short. Or balls broke opposite from his read. A few times he stood on greens mumbling to himself, protesting what he had just witnessed.
And yet Alexander, with all his local knowledge and nine USGA championships under his belt, couldn’t shake the accomplished amateur who has qualified for four times as many USGA events.
In this case, experience trumped knowledge.
“It was nip and tuck,” said Nichols, who has played in two U.S. Opens.
Alexander built a 2-up margin through the first seven holes after Nichols couldn’t get up and down from a right greenside bunker. By that point, a small contingent of members had come out to support Alexander, feeding his confidence.
By the 10th hole, Nichols had successfully scrambled to even the match, eroding any surplus confidence Alexander may have had. Nichols took his first lead on the 416-yard, par-4 11th (after Alexander played out of turn on the green). Alexander wasn’t penalized with loss of hole, but had already carded a 5 as Nichols had been laying 2 from within 8 feet. In match play, a player has the option of making his opponent re-play a shot if it was struck out of turn.
As Nichols constantly deliberated over shots, Alexander was withering in the heat. Nichols left nothing to chance. He said without a caddie he needed to be cautious. And with the greens so brutal, he was cognizant of staying away from the wrong side of the hole.
Clearly the turning point came on the 514-yard, par-5 15th with the match all square. The dogleg left hole tempts a player to execute a cut second shot. Nichols took his chances and nearly put the ball out of bounds and into a nearby creek. It left him with an awkward lie. In the meantime Alexander took the safe route, setting up a lazy 80-yard wedge to the hole from the middle of the fairway.
Suddenly their fates changed. Alexander flubbed his shot and it bounded into a right greenside bunker. He dropped his head in despair. Nichols somehow cleared a bundle of branches, hooking his ball with a 3-wood before it found the elevated green. When Alexander couldn’t finesse a decent shot out, the ball rolling to the other side of the green, Nichols needed only to sink a 6-foot par putt to grab a lead he’d never relinquish.
“Yeah, yeah I do,” said Nichols when asked if he thought No. 15 was the critical point of the match. “In a match like this, the guy who messes up first, the one who makes the first mistake is the one who usually loses.”
Afterward, Alexander wasn’t much in the mood to talk, hustling away saying, “You probably want to know how it feels to lose? Awful. It was a really good match. I can’t feel too bad. He played good. I missed a couple of shots.”
On the 18th hole, Nichols invited danger when he hit a fade off the tee. The ball landed in thick rough, under trees, presenting Nichols with a difficult 142 yards to the front of the green. He choked down on an 8-iron and punched out. The ball skipped to within 20 yards of the hole.
“I could have stood there with a bucket of balls and never would hit that shot again,” said Nichols. “I was tickled to death.”
It was all academic when Alexander pushed his 18-footer past the hole, which would have forced a playoff. Instead, Nichols needed only a 3-footer to at least halve for the win.
Shortly after, while changing his shoes in the locker room, Nichols hunched over and, with the intonation of a person making every word sink in, said, “There’s a secret to these greens and I haven’t figured it out yet. …. I’ve got to get some local knowledge.”
Who knows, should Nichols figure out the greens, his other opponents may also become victims.
Ken Klavon is the USGA’s Editor of Digital Media. E-mail him with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.