News & Opinion

Keeping tradition alive on amateur tour

Brandon Wu, Walker Cup
Brandon Wu (USA) on the 2nd tee during Day 2 Singles at the Walker Cup, Royal Liverpool Golf CLub, Hoylake, Cheshire, England. 08/09/2019. Picture Thos Caffrey / Golffile.ie All photo usage must carry mandatory copyright credit (© Golffile | Thos Caffrey)

Brandon Wu likely was the only guy in the U.S. Open field – certainly the only one who made the cut – to field post-round questions about product design and engineering

Brandon Wu likely was the only guy in the U.S. Open field – certainly the only one who made the cut – to field post-round questions about product design and engineering. It’s not quite Wu’s day job, given that he recently earned his Stanford diploma at the end of a long weekend at Pebble Beach, but product design has accounted for a large amount of his time lately.

“I really like working with people and solving problems,” Wu said.

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Brandon Wu

Wu will remain an amateur through the summer, given that it’s a Walker Cup year and he hopes to make the U.S. team. Soon, he’ll get swept up in professional golf, where he’ll be a lot less likely to have a platform to discuss mechanics.

At some point, birdies and bogeys become uninteresting, or at least monotonous. That’s one reason why the recent U.S. Open, in which Wu tied for 35th as one of four amateurs to make the cut, stands out as one of the most viewer-friendly tournaments of the year for sports fans who might not be golf fans. There’s always a journeyman who qualifies, a no-name who careers it on Thursday or Friday and prompts viewers at home to wonder, Who is that guy, and where did he come from?

Amateur golf is like that all of the time. The competitive summer amateur circuit is a breeding ground for the guys who will be on the PGA Tour and its developmental tours in the next few years. But there are enough outliers, old guys, young guys and the occasional local club champion to keep it interesting. That, and there are enough players such as Wu with a foot in each world. Their hobbies and interests haven’t yet faded because of the grind as a touring pro.

Across the country from Wu last weekend, 24-year-old Lukas Michel, an Australian, played the first three rounds of the Sunnehanna Amateur before missing the cut. Michel studied engineering in Australia but is putting it on hold to travel the tournament circuit at home and abroad. When he’s in the U.S., it’s as much about seeing the sights as competing. He took his drone out in San Francisco to capture some footage of the “homes on the hills” there.

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James Nicholas

James Nicholas probably would do the same. Nicholas was on the top end of the Sunnehanna leaderboard after playing his way to a third-place finish. That’s the least-interesting thing there is to say about Nicholas.

Only in golf could a specimen such as this recent Yale graduate exist, let alone contend. Nicholas played four years on the university’s golf team, winning this spring’s Ivy League championship, but he also played football for Yale as a freshman. If there had been enough hours in the day, he could have played hockey, too. He was the sixth all-time leading scorer in high school hockey in his native New York.

Nicholas completed a degree in biology with a pre-med focus at Yale. More than 10,000 follow him on Instagram to see his stunning photography shot during family vacations, from Iceland to Antigua. His edited video of footage taken in Iceland has attracted nearly 800,000 viewers on YouTube. Now, he creates visual content for golf brands such as Callaway and Greyson Clothiers.

He has contended in his past three tournaments. At the end of the summer, he’ll take a stab at European Tour Qualifying School.

“If it works out, it would be great,” Nicholas said. “I love to travel, and I do photography and videography on the side, so it’s kind of like my side job.”

Can you imagine how all of this must look to Tony Romo? The former Dallas Cowboys quarterback has immersed himself into the professional golf sub-world, where a former NFL player can at least compete, if not compete to win. There really is no equivalent to competitive amateur golf in other sports, let alone football.

Romo, 39, has yet to make a cut in the three PGA Tour exemptions he has received. At the amateur level, however, Romo is middling. Last summer, he won a regional event (the Racine Tri-Course Amateur in Wisconsin) and tied for 13th at the Wisconsin State Amateur. He was inside the top 25 at the Dogwood Invitational before he withdrew during the second round with back pain.

At the Dogwood, Romo played beside Canadian Garrett Rank, 31, an NHL referee. In the opening rounds of this week’s Northeast Amateur, Romo drew a pairing beside Matt Parziale, 32, a firefighter in Brockton, Mass., who won the 2017 U.S. Mid-Amateur.

For the past four years, Luke Schniederjans, who will be a Georgia Tech senior in the fall, has been a fixture on the summer amateur circuit. Schniederjans has an older brother, Ollie, plotting a career on the PGA Tour. Little brother likely will follow that path. Still, he has played enough of these events to have a feel for the landscape. Asked to weigh in on the historic courses that typically host summer amateur events, Schniederjans referenced another fellow Atlantan to connect the modern game.

“Amateur golf was as big as pro golf way back in the [Bobby] Jones era,” he said. “I think some of those courses have kept the tradition of those tournaments.”

And the men playing them have kept the tradition of what it means to be an amateur.

Julie Williams covers amateur golf for AmateurGolf.com. She is a former college golfer and Golfweek writer who coaches a high school girls golf team in Cocoa Beach, Fla. Email: hello@beyondthesundaydriver.com; Twitter: @BTSD_Jules