SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — James Nitties was one of the revelations of this tournament. So unheralded was the slender Aussie that he didn't even have a hat deal, and was happy to be recognized by an employee of Carrabba's Grill on Saturday night.
"It's been a rough ride for James," said Lyn Whitehouse, his manager and, in her words, golf mom. Whitehouse had been scheduled to fly back to Australia on Sunday but postponed her trip to follow Nitties around TPC Scottsdale.
The Australian had a share of the lead for much of the afternoon at 13 under, but failed to birdie the par-5 13th and 15th holes, and started to look out of synch on the rowdy par-3 16th. He pulled his tee shot into the front-left bunker to a chorus of boos, and dropped his club in disgust. Still, he got up and down for par and didn't come unglued until the cupcake, par-4 17th hole, where he took four to get down from just off the green to card a sloppy bogey. He made par on 18.
"Everything's come the hard way," Whitehouse added. "I knew once he got the opportunity he'd be okay."
The son of a fishmonger, James Sr., and a housewife, Barbara, Nitties has no U.S. base, and lives with his parents when he's home in Cardiff, a town outside Newcastle, Australia. They have no cable TV, and his mom watched some of the FBR from the local pub. Once, upon finding himself short on cash at an amateur tournament, Nitties sold his driver and won with his 3-wood. (His T4 finish Sunday was worth $264,000.) He turned pro in 2004 but didn't hire his first real Tour caddie, Steve Potts, formerly under the employ of Stephen Leaney, until three weeks ago
"We never had money to pay anybody," Whitehouse said.
Hardship for Nitties hit hardest in August 2005, when he was trying to make a living on the Hooters Tour and developed juvenile arthritis. He spent nearly a month in a Texas hospital with pain in his right hip and knee, but according to his manager lost more like 18 months of his career.
Through a bit of trial and error Nittles has learned to keep the condition at bay through vigorous physical conditioning, and he was pain-free last week.
"I felt like I should have won by a couple out there, that's how I was hitting it," he said. "It's sort of made me realize that I'm worthy of playing on the PGA Tour."