San Antonio – The 2012 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur at Briggs Ranch Golf Club has become quite a team effort for the Nittoli family.
Jim Nittoli, the director of golf at San Antonio Country Club, helped organize the caddies for the championship. Son, James, 16, caddied during the stroke-play qualifying rounds for Tanya Olson, who missed the match-play cut. Daughter, Julia, 14, helped retrieve caddie bibs during Sunday’s final round of qualifying.
But the true star is the family matriarch, Kelley Nittoli, 49, who hadn’t played a competitive round in nearly 20 years before her Women’s Mid-Amateur qualifier last month in Houston. With Monday’s 2-and-1 win over Carol Martin, of Irving, Texas, the San Antonio resident – the lone local in the 132-player field – advanced into the round of 32. She will face 1989 Women’s Mid-Amateur champion Robin W. Donnelley on Tuesday at 9:36 a.m. CDT.
“I haven’t played anything that has meant anything since 1993 when I was in the Metropolitan (N.Y.) Section [of the PGA],” recalled Nittoli, who left professional golf after 11 years in 1996.
In fact, Nittoli had no intention of returning to amateur golf until Roberta Bolduc, a past chairman of the USGA Women’s Committee, urged her to apply for reinstatement four years ago. The first day applications were available online, Nittoli received a phone call from Bolduc.
That turned out to be a good move. Three years after being reinstated, Nittoli realized the Women’s Mid-Amateur was being contested in her hometown, and she began working on her game.
“It was the inspiration to start playing more and being a little more serious,” said Nittoli, who had only played casual rounds with family members. “The competitive part is sometimes hard to find.”
She didn’t have to look far for support. One of her brothers, Bryant Markette, caddied in two practice rounds, and her husband has taken time off since the championship rounds started on Saturday. Another brother, Matt Markette, watched on Monday, along with her sister, Julie Allen, and her mother, who made the two-hour drive from Victoria, Texas.
Other encouragement came from Women’s Mid-Amateur committee co-chairs Whitney Smith and Daniel Simons, as well as other members who hosted her at the club prior to the championship.
It also didn’t hurt that the closest sectional qualifier was at River Oaks in Houston, a course where Kelley once worked and Jim served as an assistant professional.
The best part is she comes home every night after making the 30-minute drive from Briggs Ranch to share her golf exploits with the family at dinner.
“It’s great, it’s exciting,” said Nittoli, whose only other USGA experience came when she competed in the 1990 U.S. Women’s Open at Atlanta Athletic Club.
Nittoli, a graduate of Houston Baptist University, played one year on the LPGA Tour with conditional status. She also competed in Europe and Asia before working three years at Sunningdale C.C. in Scarsdale, N.Y. Nittoli was at Houston C.C. in 1996 when she retired from pro golf to spend more time with her family.
Now she watches her two burgeoning golfers, Julia and James. Julia is on the varsity team at Alamo Heights High as a freshman while James plays on the junior varsity squad. Kelley occasionally will assist with the girls’ program when they need another adult to chaperone team members. That’s why she has an Alamo Heights golf bag this week.
But all that takes a backseat as long as she continues advancing at the Women’s Mid-Amateur. Kelley feels very comfortable with her husband on the bag as he knows her game better than anyone.
“According to my caddie, I’ve got to go practice right now,” said Kelley after the first-round win. “I’ve got to work on a couple of things. He loves to teach. It’s nice to have him on the bag. He … can tell me where I screwed up, and what I need to work on.”
So far, it’s been good for Team Nittoli.
Jordan Craig thought her 90-year-old grandfather, Lew Lynn, was only going to accompany her to Briggs Ranch for support as a spectator.
But when Lynn saw that the club hosting this week’s U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur had push carts, he jumped at the chance to caddie.
“He said, ‘I can do this,’” said Craig, a 26-year-old from Connellsville, Pa. “And now he says he is getting stronger every day.”
Lynn needed plenty of energy on Monday as Craig required 20 holes to defeat 2008 champion Joan Higgins, a player 30 years her senior from Glendora, Calif.
“He’s fine,” said Craig when asked about her grandfather after the long day. “I’m sure this match today was very exciting and he’ll be talking about it all evening.”
This is the first time Lynn has caddied for Craig. Normally her mom, Judy, accompanies her to big competitions, but her parents couldn’t break away from the family business. Lynn and his wife opened their first Dairy Queen in 1952 and today the family oversees 57 locations in Pennsylvania. Craig and her mother own and operate six in Western Pennsylvania; Connellsville is 50 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.
Lynn, who is still involved as a consultant to the stores, decided to fly out to watch his granddaughter play in her second Women’s Mid-Am. In her first year of eligibility last year, Craig, a Wake Forest graduate who played five Futures Tour events before joining the family business, fell in the first round to Andrea Kraus, of Baltimore, Md., 5 and 4.
Lynn, who still plays a couple of times a week, offers encouragement but provides little help with club selection or strategy. Craig rallied to force extra holes, making an 8-foot par putt on No. 18, and then winning the match with a birdie-3 at the 340-yard second hole.
On Tuesday, Craig could potentially force her grandfather to walk 36 holes as two rounds of match play are scheduled.
“He won’t tell me if he is [tired],” said Craig.
Because of the age requirement, college players don’t often compete in the Women’s Mid-Amateur, unless they are in graduate school or got a late start in higher education. But that doesn’t mean a few college golf bags aren’t put to use. Lucy Nunn (Kentucky), 25, and Liisa Kelo Escartin (Arizona State), 26, were both sporting collegiate carry bags. Nunn, who graduated from Arkansas in 2008, is the assistant women’s coach at Kentucky, while Escartin, a native of Mexico, graduated from Arizona State in 2010.
Odds And Ends
Six of the 32 first-round matchups featured golfers who were both 50-plus years of age… Twenty-three golfers in the 50-to-59-year age bracket made match play, the most of any age category… Carolyn Creekmore, the 2004 USGA Senior Women’s Amateur champion, was the oldest player to make match play at 60… Lucy Nunn, 25, was the youngest… Ten of the 20 players in the field between 25 and 29 years old made match play… California (9) edged Texas (7) for the most players in match play… Seven golfers competing in their first USGA championship survived the match-play cut… Two matches featured golfers from the same state. Besides Nittoli beating fellow Texan Martin, Laura Coble, of Augusta, Ga., held off Danielle Davis, of Saint Simons, Ga., 3 and 1.
David Shefter is a USGA senior staff writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.