Hitting the Greens

WARREN – As one of the youngest members of the Professional Putters Association, 38-year old Nate Nichols is already looking to the future. The sixth grade teacher from Columbus, Ind. has recruited his class to the greens.

“They come out to watch and play with me for fun,” Nichols said. “Most of them are too young to travel the circuit. But maybe they’re the future of our tour. We need an influx of young kids.”

With orange shades and a dri-fit polo, Nichols sports a younger look with an intense disposition. He’s currently tied for fourth place in the PPA Northern Open with a 4-round score of 107.

“Despite all the putter tosses and golf club throws, I’m happy where I’m at,” Nichols said. “I can do a little better.”

Nichols and Angelo Korogianos tied for the day’s best round with a 23. The professionals played Course 3 at the Route 422 Putt-Putt four times, while the amateurs played Course 2.

Tony Varnadore currently leads the tournament with a 104.

“Everybody is equal out here,” Varnadore said. “We’re all good players. Everyone has the skill and people know the shots, it’s just hitting the shots. People tense up or don’t get into the flow.

“It’s basically a mental game.”

Temperatures the reached the low-90’s and a scorching sun overhead caused sweat and fatigue from the 11 a.m. start time until play finished around 5 p.m. The dry heat also modified the carpet of the holes.

“The fibers start to loosen up and spring up,” said local professional Dave Jones. “It’s like grass because it slows the ball down. It makes the reactions different as the ball rolls and it might break more than you originally assumed.”

Korogianos, a Toledo native who now lives in the Columbus suburb of Hilliard, adjusted on his fourth round of the day. With just a single hole-in-one on the first seven holes, he aced eight of the last 11. He just started playing putt-putt again after a 13-year hiatus. He owes a lot of new-found success to the Nike Ignite putter he recently purchased.

“Everybody told me before I started playing again that you need something heavier to hit,” he said. “I had to learn the game all over again. This works real well. The balance is better and it’ll give you more speed.”

Neither Korogianos nor Nichols ever got into “regular” golf. They’ve just been putt-putters.

“I didn’t even know the game existed until the early 2000’s,’ said Nichols, now in his 10th professional season. “I picked up on in and fell in love with it.”

Hailing from Rock Hill, S.C., Varnadore has been an avid putter since the 1970’s. He spent some time in the military, but returned and won a doubles championship in 2003, a national championship in 2009 and the Southern Open in 2010.

“Half the reason I come out here is for the friendship and companionship,” Varnadore said. “I always hope to be high in the standings, but we all have fun together no matter what.”

Jones’ best round of the day was a 28 and he currently has a 116. Fourteen players have scores of under 110, entering today’s final round which begins at 9 a.m.

With a 111, John Kropinak leads the amateur standings as Randall Smith’s 113 is good for second place.