Amputee Geoff Nicholas qualifies for The Senior Open
July 24, 2019
By Bob McClellan, PGATOUR.COM
- July 24, 2019
- Geoff Nicholas is quite the accomplished golfer having won the U.S. amputee title for 12 consecutive years. (Andrew Redington/PGA TOUR)
Geoff Nicholas compensates for not having a right leg by having the right attitude.
“A disability is only what you make of it,” said Nicholas, who Monday qualified for The Senior Open presented by Rolex that begins on Thursday. “I just get around. I think if you start thinking disability, that's when you're in trouble. I just get around as if I haven't got it. It's there, but I always feel like disability is what you sort of make of it, and I feel when I go out and play I haven't got one.”
A native of Australia, Nicholas’ right leg was amputated when he was a just 11 because of the effects of Thalidomide, a drug his mother took to relieve morning sickness while she was pregnant with him. He took up golf in the years following his surgery and was smitten with the game immediately.
Nicholas, 58, has become quite the accomplished golfer. A veritable legend in amputee golf (he won the U.S. amputee title for 12 consecutive years), he also qualified for the PGA TOUR of Australia in the 1990s. So this shouldn’t be seen as a fluke, only the latest accomplishment for a man determined not to be slowed by his disability.
He faced some bullying as a boy because of his disability, but it turns out all it did was steel him.
“I think it toughens you up as you get older, and that's the thing,” Nicholas said. “I mean, you can take it two ways. You can sort of sit back and take it, but obviously I didn't do that, and I sort of -- probably made me a bit stronger as I grew up, having been bullied.”
He doesn’t make a big deal of playing in tournaments with able-bodied golfers. His gait doesn’t really give away the fact he has a prosthetic leg, and he’s obviously wearing long pants. So it’s possible Nicholas’ competitors don’t even know.
He says the best thing about golf is it allows for reasonably even competition between the abled and disabled – something he said no other sport can offer. The only thing that holds back his game is the fact he can’t generate as much power.
“Well, it's the right leg, so it's not too bad,” Nicholas said. “I just still turn and -- most golfers that see me don't realize I've got one, so I can still play. I probably lose a little bit of distance, but I'm reasonably accurate, so I'm happy with that. …
“I'd like to be a little bit more powerful, but that's where I probably lose a little bit, the power. The short game is good and has to be. That makes up for it.”
That short game was on display when Nicholas was locked in a five-way playoff during the qualifier for just two spots into the field at Royal Lytham and St. Annes. On the 18th hole, he ran in a 25-foot birdie putt just to make the playoff.
All five players birdied the first playoff hole, and all five parred the second. Four parred the third playoff hole, and the group came to 18 again, a par 5. One player reached in two and two-putted for birdie. The other two missed lengthy birdie putts, leaving Nicholas a 15-footer for the final qualifying spot. He bent it in and now gets to rub elbows with the likes of Bernhard Langer, Fred Couples, Tom Lehman and Retief Goosen.
“Yeah, it's brilliant,” Nicholas said. “Just to qualify for an Open, a major, is terrific. That's probably one of the dreams, and then to get in the other day, that was brilliant. This field is some of the old legends. It's just great to be here.
“It's great to be in that company. Back in the '96 Australian Open I was in the same tournament as Tiger Woods, so that was special, and I actually beat him the first round. He didn't have a good one (79) and I had a reasonable one (76), so I've always got that on me. But yeah, it's great. A lot of the legends of golf it's great to be around, too.”
Nicholas obviously hopes to make it to the weekend, but he knows the odds are stacked against him.
“I’ll go out and try to play well and see what happens,” Nicholas said. “I'm 1000/1 in the bookies, but I'll just go out and play hole by hole. I think that's the way to do it.”