James Nitties Hits The Big Time

When you’re a 26 year-old PGA Tour rookie the first few months of the year can be intimidating. The flashy rental cars, the exotic locations, the money and attention being throw at you from all angles. These distractions can add up and before you know it you’re half way through the season and you’re fighting just to keep your card. For a player who lists “partying” and “girls” under “Interests” on his PGA Tour bio, keeping that focus may prove to be just about impossible.

But James Nitties doesn’t want to hear about any of that.

Nitties, who earned his PGA Tour card with a T2 at the 2008 at Q School in December, opened the year with back-to-back missed cuts at the Bob Hope and the Sony and looked to be a victim of the early season jitters and distractions that many greenhorns suffer from. That was before an opening round 7-under 65 at the FBR Open in Phoenix, AZ thrust the young man from Newcastle, Australia squarely into the PGA Tour spotlight. At the tournament widely known as the biggest party on the PGA Tour, the self-confessed party boy was right at home.

Putting all the distractions aside, the former Golf Channel Big Break star went on to add rounds of 69, 70 and 68 to finish T4, just two shots out of a playoff with Charlie Hoffman and eventual winner Kenny Perry. In just his third PGA Tour event ever, the young Aussie fought tooth and nail all the way to the finish, and if he was at all nervous being in contention for his first PGA Tour victory, he didn’t show it.

“I’ve lead major events before so I tried to draw on that,” Nitties said, referring to battles with PGA Tour veterans like Robert Allenby and Peter Lonard on the Australian Tour over the past few seasons. “Sunday was probably one of the most relaxing days of the week. I felt comfortable, calm and excited all at the same time.

I was hitting it great and feeling great on Sunday. I didn’t look at the leader board until 12 but I knew I was close. When I saw the scores I was actually surprised the leaders were not going deeper.”

Nitties came out of the gate hot on Sunday, making four birdies against no bogeys on the front nine to turn in 31 and get to -13 for the tournament.

“After my second shot went long of the green on 13 I got a little rattled.” he said, referring to a blistering 4 iron approach from almost 250 yards. “I hit a great shot and was angry walking off with par there.”

Nitties pared the par 5 15th despite having just a six iron in for his second shot, and when Perry made birdie a group later Nitties was one shot back of the lead with two holes to play. When he failed to get up and down from a greenside bunker on 17 the resulting bogey all but ensured that he would miss the Perry-Hoffman playoff by two shots.

“Apart from the finish it was very bittersweet,” he said, reflecting back on the week. “I made a couple of inexperienced errors, but it really felt like the first proper PGA Tour event for me. It was exciting to be in contention and I was very happy with the way I handled the pressure.”

The T4 earned Nitties $264,000 and shot him to 21st on the money list (now 26th) and 35th in the Fed-Ex Cup points race. He currently sits behind only Scott Piercy and Webb Simpson in 2009 rookie earnings. Perhaps most importantly, Nitties’ inspired play in Phoenix means he has the luxury of re-evaluating his goals for the rest of 2009.

“My goals have definitely changed. At the start of the year I wanted to get a jump on the (money list) re-rank and to secure my card as quickly as possible. Now my goals have shifted. One goal is to get into the top 100 in the world and the other is to get a win this year. I just want to stay focused and committed to those goals because is right where I want to be.”

The PGA Tour season is a long road to hoe and with goals like those, the partying and girls may have to take a backseat for a while longer.

2 Responses to “James Nitties Hits The Big Time”

  1. Leanne Feltis says:

    Great article. Will be keen to follow Nitties progress.

  2. Susan Lund says:

    Exciting to hear about an Auzzie 26 year old doing so well! Bet we’ll be hearing more about him! Tell him not to give up “partying and girls” though….would be TOTALLY unacceptable to the Auzzie way of life, not to mention…darn boring!!!

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