MAMARONECK, NY – For the first time since 2009 the John G. Anderson Memorial Trophy will spend the year at home, and you can bet that every junior golfer in the club will make a point of stopping by for a little inspiration. Chris Troy and James Nicholas, each junior club champions at storied Winged Foot Golf Club, will have their names up on the grill room wall yet again, this time as the 80th Anderson Memorial champions. They defeated Bluejack National's Andrew Cooper and Craig Hurlbert 2-up on Winged Foot's fearsome West Course.
“This may have been the greatest Anderson ever,” gushed several committee members, and they could be right. Young kids come out of nowhere to win? Check. Winged Foot members win at home? Check. They had to go through a gauntlet of well-decorated former Anderson champions to do it? Check. Come from behind with just five holes left while playing in a 25 mph wind that turned every shot into a nail-biter? That’s a big check!
It was a storybook finish for the tandem that started as rivals: Nicholas plays golf for Yale, Troy plays Cornell. While they had competed against each other in collegiate matches and saw each other around the club on occasion, they hadn’t exactly had much practice as a fourball team.
“We played six holes together one day,” Nicholas admitted candidly. Then both of them laughed. “Chris just texted me, and we went out.”
And with that humble beginning they went on to scythe through the tournament as though it were a wheat field. They secured the sixth seed with rounds of 68-69, then proceeded to survive what soccer fans might call a “Group of Death,” defeating 1997 champion Pascal Grizot of France and his partner J.J. Wolff and then ousting 2014 champion Luis Barco and his partner, 15-year old phenom Alberto Menacho.
Their reward? A showdown with the defending champions, Adam Horton and Roger Newsom, who were also on a sizzling tear of their own. They powered through the round of 16 and quarterfinals by routing their opponents by a combined 11 and 8. They had won their last six consecutive Anderson matches and were 8-1 overall.
But finally, they hit the chamber with the bullet in it. Immovable object? Meet irresistible force…
The outcome was never in doubt. The Winged Foot collegians raced out to a 4-up lead at the turn, powered by a hole out from the fairway for a birdie by Troy and a jaw-dropping birdie by Nicholas on the brutally long and uphill 504 yard par-4 ninth hole.
That was the defining moment of the match. Nicholas hit a 265-yard 5-iron…downwind in a 25 mph gale to be sure, but still, that’s gargantuan. A 265-yard 5-iron!
“He hit it to two feet,” gushed one fan, suitably impressed, as we all were. They finished off Newsom and Horton by a breezy 3&2.
As the morning waned into afternoon, wind’s voice rose from a lonesome howl to a veritable shriek, making long pants flap like a hummingbird’s wings. As such, birdies became an endangered species, but it was still a whiz-bang final nonetheless. A back and forth match where o team eer led by more than one hole was still tied at the 17th tee when James Nicholas hauled out driver.
“I’ve been hitting a cut all week, and on the tee box it was a left to right wind. I knew I could rip driver and get it down as far as I possibly can,” Nicholas recalled. The result was a 350-yard blast deep into Position A, center of the fairway, as green light a look as you could get. It left Nicholas a mere 118-yard shot in with his 54-degree wedge.
He put it to two feet.
18 is never a formality, but when both opponents went over the green and Chris Troy made a lovely pitch to a foot, the match was conceded.
Not since Jeff Putnam and Greg Rolff – themselves legends at a club that is the quintessence of golf royalty – had Winged Foot golfers captured the title. The ovation rose like a storm, wave after wave of adoration rang across he fairways, and member after member lined up to salute their newly-minted heroes.
“It means so much for us to win here. The members were so great to us all the way around, it really carried us. It definitely gave us a little advantage,” explained Nicholas.
“Yeah, when they came around, it got me motivated,” agreed Troy. “You don’t want to mess up in front of them,” he concluded with a laugh.
Afterwards, both players agreed that the key to the match was dealing with the ever-present winds, which blew across he fairways instead of the normal north-south prevail.
“I was able to keep it low and control it all day, and we made some putts when we needed to,” Nicholas stated.
“Yes, and we avoided making a nine,” joked Troy.
Despite the lack of experience as a team, the tandem’s strategy played out just as they drew it up on the chalkboard. Troy would play first – “he was the safe play,” Nicholas confided. If he hit the fairway, Nicholas could haul out driver and try to send one deeper. Indeed, oth drove the ball so well throughout the weekend, opponents found themselves behind the 8-ball even if they had two balls in the fairway as the Winged Foot boys frequently had shorter clubs in. When you couple that with a lifetime of local knowledge, the visiting teams were playing from behind all day.
‘Yes, Winged Foot has hosted five U.S. Opens and six other big USGA or PGA events. But when you talk about amateur golf, the conversation also starts with Winged Foot’s contributions to the game and their tireless dedication to amateur golf. It’s one of the greatest players’ clubs in the World,” noted golf expert and AWITP correspondent Bruce Moulton, and he’s right. The Anderson exemplifies everything good, true, and altruistic about our beloved game. It’s not just the incomparable grandeur of Winged Foot. It’s the dedication of each of he players, most of who “went pro” in something other than golf. They don’t play for money or sponsors or accolades. They play for love of he game and the thrill of competition, and the friends they meet along the way.
“I started to play in these events to see how good a golfer I was,” stated one participant. “Now I come to see everyone and be a part of something that so richly gives of itself to the game of golf. Because that’s what being a golfer is all about.”