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Nichols shines at U.S. Amateur Championships

By: Russ Edmondson The Placer Herald
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Rocklin golfer Tracy Nichols reached the round of 16 at the U.S. Amateur Championships in Eugene, Ore., last week. This certainly didn’t seem likely at the beginning of the week as Nichols, 25, battled to qualify for the field of 64. Nichols, a Rocklin High graduate, shot a 77 on the first day of qualifying and followed that up with a 74 the following day. But as it turned out her score of 151 was good enough for a tie for 54th place and qualified her for the match-play tournament. Some of the golfers who shot a 152 failed to reached the tournament after a playoff. “We had actually left (the course) after the second day and we had to come back for a barbecue,” said Nichols about her adventure after shooting the 74. “I really thought I (hadn’t made it).” Then Nichols and her father Alan Nichols, who also serves as her caddy and coach, were told by a pro that in fact she had qualified for the Amateur Championships. “Making the cut was the hardest part and the course was really tough . . . it was very narrow and very tight,” Alan said. Tracy Nichols turned her game up a notch when the match-play portion of the tournament began the next day. “After the first day, my nerves were more calmed down and then I can grind better,” she said. “It’s not that I played the greatest, I just came back. When you need to grind, you grind. Even playing against just one person (match play), you beat the course. Birdies are going to win every time.” Nichols opened up match play against Canada’s Sara-Maude Juneau and trailed by three holes through five. She tied up the match after nine holes and stayed pretty even for most of the back nine. Nichols clinched the match by winning holes 17 and 18. This put Nichols into the round of 32 where she was the oldest player remaining in the tournament. Nichols trailed a player from England, Breanne Loucks, but she rallied to win the final three holes to advance to the round of 16. Now Nichols was up against Azahara Munoz, a member of the Spanish National Team. Munoz, a junior at Arizona State, was an NCAA Individual Champion this year and was named Golf World’s Best Player You Maybe Never Heard Of in December. The list of Munoz’s titles and accomplishments, including a win at the 2004 Girls’ British Open Championships in Scotland, go on and on. “I knew I had to work for it and I didn’t know her credentials or anything,” Nichols said. “I didn’t know she was so loaded down with all these magnificent things she’s done.” Nichols was two holes up on Munoz through 14 but Munoz won the next three holes. Tied entering hole No. 17, both players were facing a 16-foot putt. Munoz made her putt while Nichols’ lipped out, leaving Munoz one up heading into the final hole. Nichols, needing to win the hole to force a playoff, reached the par-4 18th in two and Munoz did the same. However Nichols was 15 feet from the cup while Munoz was 40 feet away. Munoz left her putt 12 feet short and Nichols’ putt came to rest just two inches from the cup. Munoz then sunk the 12-foot putt to win the match and she carried that momentum to a second-place finish overall. “It was a great match,” Alan Nichols said. “It was probably the best match I’d ever seen from my perspective. I was pretty excited being able to caddy it and see it.” In one three-hole stretch both Nichols and Munoz birdied every hole. “It’s most likely, two of those last four holes that I played on that course,” said Nichols about what she’ll remember most from the tournament, pointing out that she was up two holes with four to play. “But it was a wonderful experience and I’m pleased with the way I handled myself. I think from my first round, and my ideas of how it would go, I am very surprised and pleased with how far I made it.” Nichols has gone though LPGA Tour Qualifying School twice so far and she plans on trying “Q” School again beginning Sept. 14 in Palm Springs. She can also go to the Futures “Q” School in Florida in September. Those who qualify earn a tour membership for the following season. “My dad and I are still deciding which one, Futures (Tour) or LPGA,” Nichols said. “Futures is like semi-pro and a heck of a lot cheaper. And they take more people for qualifying but the purses (prize money for tournaments) are much smaller. But it’s a good experience.” Tracy also became the head coach at First Tee at William Land Park Golf Course in Sacramento in December and she is enjoying that. “It’s a bunch of kids, ages 5-17, and I help guide them through life,” Nichols said. “Life skills and core values and golf activity, so we do a little bit of everything.” Nichols is planning to play in the California State Fair tournament and she is also eligible to play in the Michigan Mid-Am later this month. She says her decision on whether to play in Michigan is “all about funding.” Nichols is looking for sponsors and anybody who is interested should email her at underparchick71@hotmail.com or Alan Nichols at nicholsalan@hotmail.com.