Nichols Chalks One Up For 'Old' Guard
By Kent Zakour, USGA
Eugene, Ore. – Usually a person is considered ‘old’ at age 50 when they can join the AARP. For 25-year-old Tracy Nichols, being ‘old’ is now. Well, at least in the context of the 2008 U.S. Women’s Amateur.
The Rocklin, Calif., resident was the oldest match-play qualifier this week at Eugene Country Club, but in a field that averaged 20.17 years of age, Nichols does not feel out of place.
“Not at all,” said Nichols, who looks much younger than 25. “The more mature you get, the better you can handle [adversity on the course], like being 3-down after five [holes]. [Experience] may not show when I play – I look like a train wreck, but I try my very best.”
In her first-round 2-up victory on Wednesday, Nichols, the co-medalist from her northern California sectional qualifier, looked more like a locomotive than a caboose.
A slow start saw Nichols fall 3 down after just five holes to Sara-Maude Juneau, 20, of Canada. However, she rebounded nicely, winning five of the next six holes to take a 2-up advantage. Inconsistent putting cost Nichols holes 12 and 13 and the match returned to all square.
“Come on! Just give me one [putt]!” moaned a flustered Nichols as she hit her head against the putter after she left her 6-footer for par just short on the par-5 13th to relinquish the lead.
Playing in her just her second USGA championship – her first was the 2000 U.S. Girls’ Junior two hours north of Eugene at Pumpkin Ridge -- Nichols was able to persevere and regain control of the match at the 485-yard, par-5 16th. After hitting her drive into right rough amongst the trees, Nichols’ father/caddie, Alan, got her to relax by massaging her shoulders and offering words of encouragement.
“My dad’s got the dad hand,” said Nichols, who next faces two-time Great Britain and Ireland Curtis Cupper Breanne Loucks, 20, of Wales Thursday morning. “He knows how to calm my nerves and keep me relaxed [on the course]. I need that kind of attention.”
A refocused Nichols made par after coming up short on a 10-foot birdie attempt.
Heading to the final two holes all square, Nichols, who showed plenty of emotion and encouragement towards Juneau during the match, kept the mood light at the 17th tee.
“Holy moly, jumping fish!” shouted Nichols as she stopped her backswing after a few fish made splashes in the water adjacent to the tee.
After an impressive drive, Nichols nailed her approach from 90 yards to within 12 feet of the hole. Her birdie attempt was long, but she made a 5-footer coming back for a winning par.
Needing only a halve at the 424-yard closing hole, Nichols, the 2007 and ’08 Sacramento County champion, got a little help when Juneau’s tee shot found trees to the right of the fairway. Nichols then made a 7-foot par putt to register the 2-up win.
“You are not joking,” said Nichols when asked about the tense match. “I was the one playing and it was stressful. I could just imagine what it was like watching me – like pulling teeth – play golf.”
After attending Sacramento State for two years, where she was the most valuable player in 2001 and 2002, Nichols left school with hopes of playing golf professionally. She has gone through LPGA Tour Qualifying School twice as an amateur without success.
“I’ve made the first cuts, missed the second cuts and all that good stuff,” said Nichols, who advanced to U.S. Women’s Open sectional qualifying this year.
Perhaps all that experience will finally help Nichols break through this week.
Kent Zakour is the USGA Media Relations summer intern. Contact him at email@example.com with any questions or comments.