Trail­blazer Nicholas be­comes first am­putee to tee off in a ma­jor

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Golf - By James Cor­ri­gan

Ge­off Nicholas will be­come the first am­putee to play in a ma­jor cham­pi­onship to­day when he com­petes in the first round of the Se­nior Open at Royal Lytham & St Annes.

The Aus­tralian came through Mon­day qual­i­fy­ing to take his place at the Lan­cashire links along­side the likes of Tom Wat­son, Dar­ren Clarke, Fred Cou­ples and Jose Maria Olaz­a­bal as they aim for the £550,000 first prize.

Nicholas, 57, lost his right leg at 13 years of age due to a de­for­mity caused by the morn­ing-sick­ness drug Thalido­mide. In the past three decades, Ge­off has be­come one of the lead­ing play­ers with dis­abil­ity in the world, win­ning the first 12 edi­tions of both the US and British Am­putee Opens.

Two weeks ago he com­peted in the Eu­ro­pean Dis­abled Golf As­so­ci­a­tion Scot­tish Open, which was held over the same course and off the same tees as the Eu­ro­pean Tour’s Scot­tish Open at the Re­nais­sance Club. It was there where he de­cided to give the Se­nior Open qual­i­fy­ing a whirl at Fairhaven. There were 14 spots on of­fer for the 137 play­ers who teed it up and Nicholas suc­ceeded where for­mer PGA Tour win­ner Tommy Tolles failed, in a land­mark mo­ment for the sport.

Nicholas birdied the last for a level-par 73 that put him in a five­man tie for two re­main­ing au­to­matic places, be­fore he birdied the fifth sud­den-death hole from 15 feet. “I was elated when that putt dropped,” Nicholas said. “I was more ner­vous on the first tee than at the start of the play-off. All five of us birdied the first – I holed a 10-footer. I was at the Scot­tish Open, so thought I’d try it out.”

Nicholas has be­come known for break­ing down the game’s bar­ri­ers. In the mid-90s he earned his card on the Aus­tralia Tour and at the 1996 Aus­tralian Open played in the same tour­na­ment as Tiger Woods, bet­ter­ing his score in the first round 76 to 79. “I had a form of Thalido­mide which af­fected both legs from the knees down,” Nicholas said. Both of his an­kles were miss­ing, but it was the right leg that was caus­ing most con­cern. “It didn’t grow like the left – it was about six inches shorter. I got a lot of bul­ly­ing in school.

“When I was down, I found golf, and it has been so good to me. There aren’t many games in which you can com­pete against able-bod­ied play­ers. It is prob­a­bly the only sport in the world that you can do that on an equal play­ing field.”

In Mem­phis, Rory Mcil­roy plays in the first round of the WGC Fedex St Jude In­vi­ta­tional, a week af­ter miss­ing the cut at the Open.

Land­mark: Ge­off Nicholas, who lost a leg aged 13, has qual­i­fied for the Se­nior Open

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