Dave Nichols’s first shot during his practice round of this summer’s U.S. Amateur Golf Championship didn’t come off his club exactly the way he wanted it to.
“Yeah, I almost killed a guy on the first hole,” Nichols said. “I just snap-hooked it left, and it just missed hitting his head by a few feet. I could hardly tee it up because I was so nervous. I just wanted to go and hit it before anyone saw me.”
But that was one of the few poor shots Nichols hit all week. The senior from Mesa, Ariz. shot rounds of 77 and 72 (+9) at fabled Oakmont Country Club and Pittsburgh Field Club two weeks ago.
While Nichols didn’t qualify for the match play rounds, it was still a more than successful week for a golfer who had never played in a USGA event. Nichols finished 80th in a field of 312 golfers.
“Nothing can compare to that week,” Nichols said. “I played with the best players in the nation. Just getting into the tournament was an experience of a lifetime.”
Nichols almost didn’t make it into the championship field. He shot rounds of 65-70 (135) at a qualifying site in Arizona, but that was only good enough to make it into a four-way playoff for three spots in the championship.
With two spots already gone, Nichols was on the outside looking in on the fourth playoff hole. After missing his par putt, Nichols tapped in for bogey and watched as his competitor lined up his putt to win the playoff. Not only did his competitor miss his par putt, he also missed the comeback putt for bogey.
Just like that, Nichols was in the championship.
“I felt terrible to beat a guy like that,” Nichols said. “But this was for a trip to the U.S. Amateur.”
When Nichols arrived in Pennsylvania for the championship, he was like a kid in a candy store.
“Even walking in the clubhouse, I saw pictures of Ben Hogan and Jack Nicklaus playing the course,” Nichols said.
“It was unbelievable. Even the range balls were perfect.”
Nichols’ 80th-place finish in a championship with 312 golfers gave the senior loads of confidence.
“The course was absolutely ridiculous. Oakmont is the toughest course I’ve ever played by at least a few shots. The 77 I shot at Oakmont was much better than the 72 that I shot at Pittsburgh Field Club.”
His one-week experience at the U.S. Amateur has already helped him prepare for this year’s Michigan golf season, which starts Sept. 20-21 when the Wolverines host the Northern Intercollegiate.
“Playing at the Amateur in front of thousands of people can only help me,” Nichols said. “I don’t think I’ll ever feel that kind of pressure this season.”
And Nichols also knows that, for one summer at least, he was a slightly better golfer than his coach, Andrew Sapp. Sapp also tried to qualify for the U.S. Amateur at a different site, but didn’t make it into the championship field.
“Coach Sapp is such a great guy,” Nichols said. “So I know I won’t give him a hard time about not qualifying.”