PGA Tour rookie started late and taught himself to play

Nicholas Lindheim, California native made it to the big leagues without going to college, and without having much game in the first place.

By: AP | Napa | Updated: October 19, 2016 12:57 am
golf_reuters-m Nicholas Lindheim, who turns 32 next month, is the oldest of the 25 rookies on the PGA Tour. (Source: File)

Of the 70 players who made the cut in the PGA Tour season opener, Nicholas Lindheim easily could have been mistaken for a college kid who Monday qualified. He had a carry bag. He was not wearing a cap with a logo. He didn’t have an equipment deal. He didn’t have an agent.

Lindheim, who turns 32 next month, is the oldest of the 25 rookies on the PGA Tour.

And there aren’t many like him.

The California native made it to the big leagues without going to college, and without having much game in the first place.

“I played my sophomore year in high school, and I was terrible,” he said. “Being as competitive as I am, I just couldn’t put it down. I knew I could do it. I wouldn’t say I knew I could play on the PGA Tour, but to do it competitively.”

The competitive side of him, not to mention the athleticism, comes naturally. His dad was a swimmer, his mother ran track. His sister, Bryttani, played softball at Florida State. Lindheim was into skateboarding, soccer and baseball until he threw his arm out.

As for golf?

“Watching it on TV, I was like, `How hard is it to put a ball in the hole?”’ he said. “I just had this fixation. My play is more unorthdox. I’ve been self-taught my whole life. I’m just really competitive. Just get the ball in the hole as fast as you can.”

Turns out it was plenty difficult, though not enough for him to stop trying.

He worked in the cart barn at Mission Viejo Country Club, then moved to Menifee Lakes Country Club in Murrieta, California, where he would play every day after work until he got better. He tried Q-school for the first time in 2011. He qualified for the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 in 2014, made the cut and played with Jim Furyk in the final round (Lindheim closed with a 77 and tied for 56th, Furyk shot 67 and tied for 12th).

He finally got some status on the Tour, and Lindheim won on the Latin America circuit in 2014 and 2015.

And then he was ready to quit.

“I thought maybe at one point this year I wasn’t good enough,” Lindheim said. “It was my daughter’s third birthday. I was in Springfield, Illinois, and had just missed the cut by a shot. I missed an 8-footer on the last hole. I called my wife and said, `This isn’t fun.’ I was missing out on life at home.”

His wife, Gracie, an attorney in Satellite Beach, Florida, told him to finish up the year and take stock.

Lindheim won the next week in Utah and was on his way to the big leagues.

“That’s how crazy this game is,” Lindheim said.

Others seem more impressed than Lindheim that he was still learning to play when his fellow rookies on tour were in the NCAAs, the U.S. Amateur or the Walker Cup.

“That’s what my wife says,” Lindheim said with a laugh. “She says I don’t realize the level I’m at. I just expect a lot out of myself.”

ASIA SWING: PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem was comfortable with two Asia tournaments in the fall when the HSBC Champions in China became a World Golf Championship in 2009 and the CIMB Classic in Malaysia began a year later.

Now that is set to expand.

The PGA Tour plans a new tournament in South Korea that will start next year, giving the tour three straight weeks of golf in Asia that offer at least $7 million in prize money. Yonhap News Agency said South Korean conglomerate CJ Group will be the title sponsor. Details, such as the field and the size of the purse, are expected to be announced Monday in Seoul.

The event in South Korea would give players an easier option of playing two weeks if they are eligible for the World Golf Championship in Shanghai. Instead of an overnight flight from Kuala Lumpur, the flight from Korea is just over two hours across the Yellow Sea.

On Tuesday, the PGA Tour Champions announced its first tournament in Japan.

The Japan Airlines Open will be Sept. 8-10 at Narita Golf Club. That makes the second Asia trip in the history of the 50-and-older circuit. The PGA Tour Champions had a two-year stint in South Korea (2010 and 2011), and it was supposed to take another event to China last year until a factory explosion moved the event to Canada.

AMATEUR HOUR: A policy change on the PGA Tour involving amateurs has a historical footnote involving Tiger Woods and Matt Kuchar.

Woods’ record of 142 consecutive cuts made on the PGA Tour would have been only 117 in a row if not for Kuchar. At the Bay Hill Invitational in 1999, Woods opened with rounds of 74-72 and went into the weekend in a tie for 71st. The cut policy for years had been top 70 “professionals” and ties.

Kuchar shot 73-69, but because he was an amateur, Woods made the cut. He went six more years before the streak ended at the Byron Nelson Classic.

Starting this season, the cut is top 70 and ties, with no distinction between amateur and professional.

LPGA PROMOTION: Madelene Sagstrom led the list of 10 players from the Symetra Tour who earned cards on the LPGA Tour for next year. Sagstrom, a 23-year-old Swede who went to LSU, won three times and had 11 finishes in the top 10.

Among the LPGA newcomers is Nelly Korda, whose tie for sixth in the Symetra Tour Championship allowed her to get into the top 10 on the money list and join big sister Jessica Korda in the big leagues next year.

Six of the 10 were playing the Symetra Tour for the first time _ Sagstrom, Korda, Ally McDonald, Wichanee Meechai, Dana Finkelstein and Peiyun Chien.

FEDEX CUP: The PGA Tour has adjusted its point distribution for the FedEx Cup to put more emphasis on higher finishes. It essentially uses a similar model to how the money is paid out at tournaments.

What tour officials discovered was that a player who finished ninth one week and missed the cut the following week earned roughly the same amount of FedEx Cup points was someone who finished 31st at both those events. But in the money distribution, ninth place and a missed cut was worth at least twice as much money.

As an example of the change, a player last year received 40 points for finishing 31st. This year he gets 26.5 points.

DIVOTS: Bank of Hope, the largest Korean-American bank in the United States, with more than $13 billion in assets, has become title sponsor of the Founders Cup on the LPGA Tour. The event, which celebrates the LPGA founders, will still be played at Wildfire Golf Club in Phoenix. … Golfweek magazine reports that Lydia Ko has split with her caddie of two years, Jason Hamilton. She won 10 times with him on the bag, including two majors. … Justin Thomas has pledged $250 for every birdie (or better) he makes at the Safeway Open, the CIMB Classic and HSBC Champions to Convoy of Hope, which aids those affected by Hurricane Matthew. Thomas made 23 birdies and one eagle at the Safeway Open, totaling $6,000.