When it comes to golf, Kirk Triplett and Duffy Waldorf have been around the block. Since they turned professional in 1985, the longtime friends have won multiple tournaments on the PGA Tour, competed for major championships and climbed into the top 50 of the World Golf Rankings.
This week, they're gearing up for the Melwood Prince George's County Open in College Park, where they will have to contend with young upstarts like Nicholas Reach, who was still in diapers when Waldorf won his first professional tournament in 1995.
Reach — who graduated from high school and turned 19 last month — stands as the only teenage amateur in this week's Nationwide Tour event. But even against seasoned pros like Triplett and Waldorf, each of whom turns 50 next year, Reach believes he can come out on top.
"You always play to win," Reach said. "You never play just to make the cut. I'm playing to win, for sure. I think my game is good enough where I have the potential. It's just a matter of putting together a few good rounds and making some putts."
Bound for the University of Georgia, Reach didn't get here by accident. Two months ago, he fired a course record-tying 62 in the opening round of the Junior Invitational at the Sage Valley Golf Club in Georgia. He followed that up with scores of 66 and 68 to win the tournament by eight strokes and qualify for this week's showcase at the University of Maryland Golf Course.
It will mark Reach's third appearance on the Nationwide Tour. He received a sponsor's exemption into his debut tournament three years ago at the Northeast Pennsylvania Classic, where he became the fourth-youngest player to participate in a Nationwide Tour event. The Moscow, Pa., native missed the cut after a second-round 76, but his first-round 67 was good enough to earn him an invitation back the following year.
Rather than treat it like a flash in the pan, Reach hopes his early exposure to the professional ranks is a sign of things to come.
"It's just a little taste of what I can have in the future, which would be really cool to be playing week-in, week-out like this," Reach said.
On the other end of the spectrum sits Triplett, whose up-and-down play has left him straddling the PGA and Nationwide tours in recent years. After finishing the 2010 season ranked 203rd on the PGA Tour money list, the man who ranks 70th in career earnings on tour now finds himself relying mostly on his conditional Nationwide Tour status garnered from past success.
"That's what I ask myself every day, 'What am I doing out here?' " Triplett chuckled. "I'm getting my brains kicked in, just like on the regular tour."
Triplett, who finished in a tie for 30th in this event last year, will be up against his former college sparring partner and soon-to-be Champions Tour comrade Waldorf, who ranks 67th on the all-time earnings list. After sitting out two years following knee surgery, Waldorf has made two cuts in nine starts on the PGA Tour this year to go along with a 15th-place finish in his only other Nationwide Tour appearance. To succeed this week, both journeymen know they will need to overcome any physical disadvantages with the wise decision-making characteristic of wily veterans.
"I do have an edge over [younger players] in certain areas, but they certainly can hit shots that I can't hit," Triplett said. "But I know I can't hit them, so I don't try. As long as I don't try, I'm OK, and I can compete."
Reach, meanwhile, has the talent to hit just about any type of shot he wants. If those shots go according to plan, he might fall into a favorable trend on the Nationwide Tour: Only two amateurs have won Nationwide events, both on university golf courses.
"I'm not really paying attention to what's going on around me with all the hype and everything else," Reach said. "The hype can get to you so much, especially as a 19-year-old at a Nationwide event. It can really get overwhelming, but you just have to take it to your advantage and really enjoy the week."
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