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Nick Nelson, a previously obscure golfer who entered the Utah State Amateur for the first time, is obscure no more. He is the new Utah State Amateur champion, a title that will give him golfing credibility the rest of his life.
The unsung Nelson was forced to play all 18 holes in each of his five matches, and he proved his mettle by winning all five. Pretty good for a guy who hadn't ever played a match in the State Am.
Enroute to his title he defeated Rick Lloyd, Zach Bachman, and Brady Stanger on the 18th hole, and outlasted Chris Gresh in 19 holes, and then won the championship over Scott Clark on the 18th hole.
Nelson, calm and composed throughout the tournament, credited his putting and a few swing changes for his success.
"I made a lot of putts, and my swing changes have been a big help," he said.
He played high school golf at Lone Peak High School and has been at a junior college in Texas for the past two years. He was planning to attend BYU-Hawaii next year, but UVSC coach Clark Rustand saw him play at the recent Provo Open and offered him a scholarship which he immediately accepted.
"I wanted to stay home. That's where my family and friends are and the golf here is much more competitive," he said. "I'm looking forward to playing for Coach Rustand."
Nelson worked at Thanksgiving Point for two years on the grounds crew, and Cole Hale, the assistant pro at Thanksgiving Point, caddied for him throughout the tournament.
"My caddie was huge for me," Nelson said.
Scott Clark, the runnerup, was not disappointed in his own play, but credited Nelson for his good play.
"I think I shot around 69 in the morning and the afternoon and that score was good enough to win every match I played, but not good enough against Nick," he said. "He is a fine player."
Both players started fast out of the gate, each of them sinking birdies on the first two holes. Clark got the lead with a par on three. They then parred four through seven and Nelson squared the match with a birdie on eight. They both parred nine to turn all square.
Nelson took his first lead with a par on ten, but Clark got it back with a par on 12. Nelson birdied 14 and 16 to go two-up, a lead he held at intermission.
Nelson birdied number one again, a hole that treated him good all week, to go three-up at the start of the afternoon session.
Clark, sensing he needed to get something going quickly to turn the tide, drove slightly right of the green on the third hole and won with a birdie. He added birdies on five, six, and seven to take a one- hole lead in a turnaround that had Nelson doubting his own ability.
A birdie putt from the fringe of the green on the ninth hole squared the match and reinvigorated Nelson. He followed it up with another birdie on the tenth hole, and Clark opened the door even wider for Nelson with a three-putt bogey on the par five 11th hole to go two-down.
Both players birdied 12 and Clark cut it to a one- hole deficit with a birdie on 13, but Nelson got it back with a birdie on his own on 14. The both walked off 15 with pars and Clark was running out of time, facing two down with three to play.
Clark won the 16th hole with a par, making it one down with two to play.
On the very long par three 17th hole, playing at full length of more than 250 yards, both players hit the green and two-putted, leaving Clark trailing by one going onto the final hole, a familiar position for Nelson on the 18th hole.
With the tee up short neither golfer took the bait tempting a drive to the green, and they both settled for comfortable shots about 50 yards short of the green. They both hit approach shots to about 12 feet. Nelson was out, and missed his putt, putting Clark's destiny in his own hands, and his putt slid barely past the edge.