The scene was suited for a storybook ending. The hometown kid confidently strode up the 18th fairway on Berkeley Hall’s North Course with an army of friends and family behind him.
Two putts to win. Two putts to achieve a lifelong dream. Two putts to finish the script too perfect for the movies.
But Bryson Nimmer needed three putts.
Nimmer came up short on his home course Sunday afternoon, losing to University of North Florida junior Phillip Knowles on the second playoff hole to add a bitter twist to an otherwise magical week for the hometown favorite at the 18th annual Players Amateur.
Knowles fired a bogey-free 7-under-par 64 in the final round – the low round of the tournament – to overcome a four-shot deficit and made two gutty pars in the playoff to foil Nimmer’s movie-script ending and earn what he called the win of his career.
“You dream of this,” Knowles said. “I started off the day I don’t even know how far back, and you dream of just going out and playing one of the best rounds of your career.”
Even so, it seemed it wouldn’t be enough.
After a 3 1/2-hour lightning delay, Knowles made birdie at the par-3 17th – his seventh birdie of the day – to pull even, only to have Nimmer answer by hitting his first shot after the delay to 4 feet on the par-3 16th and running in a birdie of his own to recapture the lead.
After each player made another par, Nimmer arrived at the 18th tee with a one-shot lead. His tee shot narrowly avoided trouble, and he safely knocked his approach on the green, leaving nothing but a long two-putt between himself and a lifelong dream of earning a spot in the RBC Heritage presented by Boeing.
Nimmer knew he didn’t put enough on his birdie putt as soon as he hit it, barking at the ball to, “Go! Go!” It came up a few feet short, leaving a slippery downhill par putt that slid past the hole.
“You do everything right, you hit the fairway, you hit the green, and then …,” Nimmer said. “You’ve just got to be able to finish it, and I just wasn’t able to.”
Nimmer steeled himself for the playoff, though, and appeared poised to take down Knowles on the 73rd hole. He smashed his tee shot down the middle, while Knowles blocked his right and had to punch out, coming up well short of the green.
But Nimmer’s approach skidded off the back of the green, leaving a tough chip, and Knowles spun his pitch shot to 3 feet, swinging the pendulum. Nimmer’s chip came out hot, but he made the uphill 12-footer coming back to live to see a 74th hole.
No miracles remained in Nimmer’s bag, though. His approach on the second playoff hole came up short and embedded in the bunker, and he couldn’t get up and down, while Knowles played safely to the center of the green and played for a two-putt par.
He succeeded where Nimmer couldn’t, lagging his putt to 4 feet and making the knee-knocker to clinch the biggest win of his budding career.
“It just means so much to win here, with the names that have gone down,” Knowles said. “I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like to come back next year and see my name up there. It’s going to be crazy.”
It’s a feeling Nimmer has dreamed of for years, probably every time he makes the drive to the clubhouse at Berkeley Hall, where he is a member.
Nimmer knows he will get another chance to win the Players Amateur, and if his career arc continues on its current path, he will live out that dream of playing in the Heritage one day. As more than one of the “squadron” of cheerleaders who turned out to pull for Nimmer on Sunday noted, these sorts of things build character.
But character won’t salve the sting of a storybook ending soured, at least not for now.
“It just hurts a lot,” Nimmer said. “It’s been my dream ever since I was little to play in the Heritage. To come up that close and just need to make one putt to get in, it hurts.”
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