Beaufort Today -

Knowles tops Nimmer in playoff, claims Players Amateur championship

  • Courtesy of Angela McSwain/Heritage Classic Foundation Phillip Knowles pumps his fist after sinking his tournament-clinching par putt.
  • Dan Hunt/Beaufort Today Knowles poses with his first-place trophy and the Heritage Classic Foundation’s Steve Wilmot, left, and Andy McMillen.
  • Courtesy of Angela McSwain/Heritage Classic Foundation A disappointed Nimmer walks off the 18th green Sunday at Berkeley Hall Club.
  • Courtesy of Angela McSwain/Heritage Classic Foundation Bryson Nimmer of Bluffton lines up a putt on the 18th green.

Fans who stuck around Berkeley Hall’s North Course through a three-and-a-half-hour weather delay Sunday were rewarded with a dramatic a finish to the Players Amateur.

Bluffton resident Bryson Nimmer and Phillip Knowles finished the final round at 13-under par to force a sudden death playoff.

After trading pars on the first p[layoff hole at No. 18, Knowles outlasted Nimmer on the second by saving par against the Clemson University standout’s bogey.

Knowles forced the playoff by shooting seven birdies with no bogeys on the back nine, having entered the day at 4-under. He had a clutch stretch of three birdies and four pars in his final seven holes including the playoff.

Three of Knowles’ pars came on the 18th hole, a long par 4 with a difficult pin location Sunday.

The rising senior at the University of North Florida was emotional after what he called the win of his life.

“You dream of this, you know?” he said. “I started the day, I don’t know how many back, and you dream of going out there and playing one of the best rounds of your career.”

Knowles said he had no idea the Players Amateur champion is awarded a sponsor exemption to play in the RBC Heritage.

“I made the putt, I looked at (my caddy), and he says, ‘You just qualified for your first PGA Tour event,’” Knowles said. “I had no words. I am excited to come back.”

Knowles, from Bradenton, Fla., is one of six siblings. As he was coming off the 18th green, he said he couldn’t wait to hear from each one of them.

“I can’t imagine my phone right now,” Knowles said. “I tried to stay away from my phone and the leaderboard for three and a half hours (during the delay).

“I wish my parents could be here. They’re flying back from the other side of the country right now, but I can’t imagine. I know all my siblings are following, so I just can’t wait to look at my phone.”

On the other side of the result, Nimmer’s family, friends, Clemson supporters and other local fans made up a significant percentage of the crowd around the 18th green in the 5 o’clock hour. And they witnessed an unfortunate finish to an excellent week for the Hilton Head Christian graduate.

The hardest part was the final hole of regulation. With the other groups in the clubhouse, Nimmer reached No. 18 one stroke ahead of Knowles.

Nimmer found the fairway with his first shot and his approach landed in the middle of the green. He was about 30 feet left of the pin with a tricky uphill putt, but he had steered clear of the water and a bunker.

The approach “was right where I was aiming,” he said. “With a one-shot lead, there’s no reason for me to be aiming at that flag and I would do the same thing over again. I’ve just got to be able to two-putt after doing that.”

Nimmer left his putt about eight feet short. A bad misread before his next putt led to the playoff and eventual second-place finish.

“Honestly, I just wanted to win. I don’t really care that I played well,” he said. “I fought really hard today and gave it a good go, but I wish I played a little bit better.”

Knowles put the pressure on Nimmer on the first playoff hole by making an up-and-down look easy. Nimmer responded by sinking a resilient eight-foot putt to force another hole.

Both players put their tee shots in the fairway and mishit their approaches, with Nimmer landing in the bunker and Knowles finding the far left side of the green.

“I had a really good (club), one that I knew wouldn’t get over the green, but I could hit OK and still cover the bunker,” Knowles said. “And I just pulled it.

“I don’t want to say it was nerves because I saw that Bryson was in the bunker, but I almost would have rather been in the bunker than trying to two-putt from there.”

Knowles’ first putt, which left him only three and a half feet short, was the key. Nimmer found the rough after hitting out of the bunker and two-putted. Knowles dropped the winning putt moments later.

Both golfers will resume their summer schedules this weekend at Pinehurst for the 111th Southern Amateur Championship.

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