Trailblazer Nicholas becomes first amputee to tee off in a major
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