Four tournaments into the Georgia PGA’s 2014 tournament schedule, the same name keeps appearing at the top of the leader board.
Chris Nicol, an assistant at Georgia Golf Center, scored his fourth win of the young tournament season, taking the inaugural Rivermont Championship in a playoff with Coosa Country Club assistant Travis Nance.
Nicol’s victory was his first of the year in a Georgia PGA points tournament. His other three wins came in a pair of team events — one in the Assistants Division and the other the Section’s Pro-Pro Scramble – along with an Assistants stroke play tournament.
Nicol also won the inaugural Championship at Berkeley Hills in 2010, but was out of the Georgia PGA Section for several years before returning late in 2013.
Just as he did in his win at Berkeley Hills, Nicol jumped out to a lead after the first round, shooting 5-under 66 at Rivermont to lead 7-time Georgia PGA Player of the Year Tim Weinhart by one shot.
Also shooting 67 the first day was amateur Brian Katrek, a familiar voice to golf fans in metro Atlanta and around the country through his work with the PGA Tour, Turner Sports coverage of the PGA Championship and various radio and TV golf shows.
Katrek shot 29 on the par-35 back nine (his first nine of the round) and held on to finish at 4-under. Playing in the final group with Nicol and Weinhart the next day, he shot a 74 for a 141 total, tying for 7th overall and winning low amateur honors by three strokes over Chris Hall.
Nicol notched six birdies in his first round, four of them on the back nine, but played relatively cautious golf the second day and shot 70 to tie Nance at 6-under 136. Nance took the lead with his second eagle in two days at the short, par-4 11th, with Nicol pulling even with a birdie at the par-4 15th after a superb approach shot.
Both players had chances to win in regulation, but both bogeyed the par-4 18th. Nance, playing in the group in front of the final threesome, three-putted from long range, with Nicol missing the green after his tee shot in the right side of the fairway left him with an obstructed angle to the pin position.
After a well-played chip shot from a mound behind the green, Nicol missed his par putt for the victory, but won the playoff on the first hole when Nance pulled his tee shot at the 18th into the trees and never found the ball, enabling Nicol to capture the victory with a bogey after again missing the green.
Nance shot a pair of 68s for his 136, total, with Weinhart tying for 3rd at 137. Weinhart, an instructor at the Standard Club, had the lead at the turn at 6-under after a 2-under 33 that could have been lower, but could not convert on a number of birdie opportunities and had just two on the round. His only bogey of the day on the 15th resulted from a bad break, as a well-struck tee shot rolled across and through the fairway into the trees, and he could not get up-and-down after missing the green.
Also tying for 3rd at 137 was Sonny Skinner of Albany’s River Pointe Golf Club. Skinner shot a second round 67 with four birdies and no bogeys. Champions Tour player James Mason closed with a 65, the low round of the tournament, to finish 5th at 138, with Peter Jones of Cherokee Town & Country Club 6th at 139.
After playing sparingly last year, with very little tournament experience, Nicol plans a more active playing schedule in 2014, especially after his early season success. He teamed with Towne Lake Hills instructor Bill Murchison to win two scramble events, shooting 61 on both occasions to beat the team of Greg Lee and Gary Miller in both tournaments. Nicol also won an Assistants Stroke Play tournament.
Nicol said Georgia Golf Center pros Danny Elkins and Chris Asbell “have been really good to me. If I don’t play, I’m in trouble with them. If I can play and play well, that helps our publicity out.”
In his two wins in points events, Nicol had held the lead after the first round, but his advantage at Berkeley Hills was more sizeable than his slim margin at Rivermont.
“It’s harder with a bigger lead,” he said. “If you’re one up, all square or one down, you’re trying to make birdies. It’s hard to be aggressive when you’ve got the advantage and people have to get you.”
Nicol was able to quickly shake off the disappointment of his closing bogey in regulation, realizing “I still had a chance in extra holes.”
Nance’s disappointment was not giving himself a chance on the playoff hole, as he had to return to the tee for his third shot after being unable to locate his wayward drive.
Still, it was a positive step for the former mini-tour pro, who played what was then known as the Buy.com Tour in 2002 and scored two Hooters Tour victories before calling it a career in early 2007.
Nance has been at Coosa for four years, and has taken to the less stressful existence of a club professional. Nance is trying to get back into more of a playing mode after not playing competitively last year and not getting out on the course at all from last October until the Rivermont tournament’s pro-am.
Judging by his two tee shots on the par-4 11th, Nance has not forgotten how to play, hitting driver to eight feet on the 300-yard hole in the first round and to six feet to take the lead the next day.
Nance had a chance to expand his lead late in the round, but missed a birdie putt from about four feet on the 16th and missed again from even closer range after hitting the flag stick with his tee shot on Rivermont’s dramatic, downhill par-3 17th.
“I didn’t expect to play well,” Nance said. “I was happy to be in a playoff.”
Katrek was very happy to claim low amateur honors after playing his best competitive round ever the previous day. After letting two of the more get-able holes at Rivermont (the par-5 10th and short, par-4 11th) get away, Katrek holed his second shot from the fairway for eagle on the 13th, which sports one of the more treacherous false fronts you’ll encounter and left Katrek with “an eight or nine” the last time he played it in competition.
On the par-3 14th, Katrek pulled the same club (a 9-iron) from his bag and hit it to five feet for a second straight birdie. Two holes later, he just missed a second hole-out from the fairway (again the 9-iron) for a tap-in birdie, and closed out the nine with two more birdies, hitting his approach shots to five feet at the 17th and 10 feet at the 18th with slightly longer clubs.
Katrek was aware of what he was doing, having done the math in his head while he was playing the 18th.
“I knew that putt was for a 29. To say I shot 29 for nine holes in a tournament is great. That made my day.” A three-putt bogey at the sixth was his first slip, and he followed with a stray tee shot that wound up a lost ball and a double bogey before another precisely struck iron shot produced a comeback birdie on the eighth.
The 67 put Katrek into the final group the next day, and he admitted he “thought about it a lot last night. I’ve known Tim for 15 years. We’re poker buddies. I didn’t want to get in their way, but after one hole I was beating them.”
Katrek birdied the opening hole to tie Nicol for the lead, but three straight bogeys threatened to tarnish his career round the day before. He recovered to par the next 12 holes, including an amazing if unintended up-and-down at the 17th, before a bogey on the final hole ended his streak.
Playing his best ever competitive round, finishing under par and taking low amateur honors gave Katrek a lot to reflect on, as well as serving as fodder for his next radio show, where he was prepared to go into excruciating details for his audience.