James Nitties: Welcome to the PGA Tour
BY Anthony Powter | Australasian PGA Tour | 2008 Australian Open | General | 10 Dec 2008
In a space of only a few weeks much has changed for James Nitties. Last month at the NSW Open in his local region of the Hunter Valley he was playing the season ending Von Nida Tour event not knowing what his options in 2009 would be.
Nitties headed to the US in an attempt to gain playing privileges of some type, a right that had eluded him at that point in his career. The recent finishes back home had lifted his confidence, yet he had no idea what would unfold within such a short time back in the US.
James Nitties Audio Interview
His next event was the Final Stage of the USPGA Tour Q-School and after six gruelling rounds he finished in a share of second place on Monday and secured his right to play the 2009 PGA Tour.
Six rounds of torrid golf had crystallised a dream he’d held since picking up a club at the age of 12. He was heading to the PGA Tour with playing status and returning back to Australia a completely different player to what had left just weeks earlier. The pathway to the main tour has been anything but easy for the 26-year-old, but his dream was now a reality.
“I had no status at all prior to last week,” he said this morning at Royal Sydney after just arriving from the US.
“To be able to now go and play the tour that I’ve dreamed to be on is a real thrill. I want to prove that I can play there and it’s something I’m looking forward to doing.”
Nitties has come off a horror last few years that has seen him plagued by injury.
There was also considerable frustration with his game that came from having to Monday qualify in order to gain one of five to seven spots in the main event each week. During 2007 Nitties played fifteen of those qualifiers from which he progressed to the main draw six times.
In 2008 he played only three Monday qualifiers, shooting 6-under-par in two, yet a main draw slot alluded him. He felt he was hitting his head against a wall and in retrospect those experiences were for the better, as it forced Nitties to reconsider his playing strategy, as well as his immediate future.
Nitties has never lost sight of his broader objective to gain a US tour card of some type and to settle in to the grind of four-round tournament golf. Scheduling consistency is something he has missed and to an extent, injury aside, it’s restricted his career since turning professional in 2004.
“I’ve been a type of golfing nomad,” he said this morning. “I played where ever I can get a start, Gateway, Hooters, as well as trying to ‘Monday’ for the Nationwide. It’s not been easy as there’s a lot of guys out there doing it, but it’s certainly hardened me as a player.”
Nitties became a globe trotting road warrior, who travelled between Nationwide Tour Monday qualifiers, Gateway and Golden State Tour events, usually by car, in a routine that virtually bordered on nomadic. Dedication and a desire to achieve his goal of playing the PGA Tour were the only motivating factors on his long journeys between tournaments. Many others have faded under the same circumstances and become statistics of the tour, Nitties has survived and is better from it.
“It was an experience that made me a better person and a player and it’s one that I’ll take with me onto the main tour. It’s been a hard grind, but it’s one I’m glad to have had.”
Nitties’ only real base for the last three years has been in Tallahassee in Florida, staying with good mate Long Sellenz, who himself has done wonders for many emerging players. Sellenz looked after Nitties like a father figure and provided a sanctuary during the many down periods, reinforcing to Nitties that the effort would eventually be worth it. His words of wisdom proving right.
Sellenz was one of the first Nitties called this morning after stepping off his flight from the US to convey the good news that he’d made the main tour and to thank him for all the support over the years.
Nitties turned professional in October 2004, immediately after representing Australia at the Eisenhower trophy in Puerto Rico, with the Queensland PGA Championship the following month his debut tournament where he made the cut. The next week at the NSW Open he did the same.
He’d already played in several professional events including the 2003 MasterCard Masters on the European Tour where he finished an impressive 8th and in the 2001 and 2003 Australian Opens, where he was the leading amateur on both occasions. The transition to the paid ranks was seen at the time as more a formality for Nitties, following an outstanding career as an amateur.
A month after turning professional Nitties finished runner-up to Peter Lonard at the Australian PGA Championship in only his fourth professional start. Had Lonard not been in such a purple patch at that time, history may have been different. Nitties would then go on to finish a top-30 at the 2005 Heineken Classic and a 10th at the Jacob’s Creek and with this came exempt status from stage one of the 2005 USPGA Tour School and straight to second stage that was scheduled for November 2005.
“I want to be on a main tour, be that either in the US or Europe and within two years,” he said in an interview in April 2005 at Newcastle Golf Club, where he has been coached by Jason Laws for the past six years.
It was an outstanding debut season and a spot on the 2006 Nationwide Tour seemed certain. As Nitties would later experience, in professional sport nothing is certain.
In August 2005 when his game was on the way up in the US, Nitties was diagnosed with reactive arthritis. It would hamper his immediate playing future, frustrating the talented Novcastrian, as he felt a sense of uselessness as if he drawn the short straw early in his career. It would represent a low point, which for many may have even proven fatal, but not for Nitties.
He would play the Hooters Tour, winning his first professional tournament with the Base Camp Realty Chesdin Landing Open in 2006. Nitties also played any other events he could qualify as he had no playing privileges on the Nationwide Tour. In fact he has never had any Nationwide Tour playing rights.
But that’s the past and some golfers, particularly Nitties, never dwell on the past, but rather focus on the future.
James Nitties is a suave golfer with a powerful approach to the game. He’s an impressive package that attracts the female eyes in the galleries. Looks aside, Nitties has always possessed the game to match it with the world’s best and he confirmed it over an outstanding six days at the USPGA Tour School.
He held it together and he brings to the game of golf a touch of “007” status. A licence to kill a golf course and thrill a gallery. A risk taker who likes to play the numbers game, yet is determined, capable and focused.
For James, the immediate focus has become the PGA Tour and it’s richly deserved for one of our most talented and emerging professionals.