James Nicholas (AGC photo)
JOHNSTOWN, Pa. – James Nicholas is one of those guys who seemingly can do anything. If an Ivy League education is about having varied interests and a robust resume, then Nicholas is Ivy League to the core.
The 22-year-old Scarsdale, N.Y., native recently completed a Biology degree at Yale with an emphasis on pre-med. Despite the contributions that Nicholas men before him have made to sports medicine (his late grandfather James A. Nicholas performed four knee-surgeries on Joe Namath and developed a derotation brace used by Namath and many other athletes), Nicholas is putting his degree on hold to pursue other passions.
Much of his life has been this way. The affable Nicholas was recruited to play golf and football for Yale. After his freshman year, Nicholas, who played strong safety, cut his commitment solely to golf. He trimmed 30 pounds and went all in on his chosen sport. That often meant starting the day at Yale Golf Course at 6 a.m., practicing until classes began at 9 a.m., returning at 2 p.m., and leaving again at 7 p.m. to spend the night studying.
Ivy Leaguers multi-task, and they do it well.
There is no better example of that than during the league championship. Nicholas won the individual title the past two years despite having to cram for finals throughout the course of the 54-hole tournament.
“It really taught me how to play well in adverse conditions and keep going,” he said.
That skill comes up over and over again in golf. Nicholas has fared well in wind and rain through 36 holes at the Sunnehanna Amateur. After rounds of 66-72 at the par-70 Sunnehanna CC, he is inside the top 5 and just three off the lead.
“This course is like your everyday northeast course, it’s got really fast greens that you have to stay below the hole on,” he said.
With the world at his feet, where does Nicholas go at the end of the summer? To Europe. He plans to turn professional in August and chase European Tour membership.
“If you asked me that question three years ago, it would kind of be a different answer,” Nicholas said. It took a few years to narrow down his options.
The Nicholas family is an impressively athletic bunch. James is the oldest of five children. Twins Stephen and Michaela will be seniors next year at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa. Stephen is captain of his golf team. Michaela captains a field hockey team that in 2017 lost in the Final Four (in overtime) to Middlebury (Vt.) College, where younger sister Erin is on the roster.
Erin also plays lacrosse, and received first-team All-America honors in both sports.
“The girls have beautiful swings but don’t really play as much because they’re training for other sports,” James said. “It’s crazy. They just get out there and whack it and it’s perfect.”
Brian, the 14-year-old baby, is “just a stud.” Big brother calls him one of the best hockey players in the country.
“It’s been fun to follow everybody. We’re all talented in our own ways,” James said.
The Nicholas family is headed to England this summer for a family wedding. Nicholas plans to stay a little longer overseas to play the first stage of European Tour Qualifying School – he just hasn’t decided which of the sites he’ll sign up for yet. Three are in England, but Sweden, Germany, Australia, France, Italy and Portugal are also choices.
If all works out – and he navigates the three-stage qualifying school – Nicholas would have a European Tour card by the end of November. Playing the European Tour would be a sort of year-abroad experience for Nicholas, while also allowing him to chase his chosen career path.
It’s far from unheard of to go that route. Brooks Koepka started his career on the Challenge Tour before moving up to the European Tour, and Peter Uihlein, the former Oklahoma State standout who won the 2010 U.S. Amateur, also started his career overseas.
If nothing else, Nicholas’ road will be well-documented. As many tangible things as Nicholas has tackled over the past few years, there is a virtual component, too.
More than 10,000 people follow Nicholas on Instagram
. Opening his page is like stepping into National Geographic. Nicholas bought his first GoPro when he was 13 because the family liked to travel and Nicholas wanted to document it.
“I always wanted to capture it and look back on it like, ‘This is what we did, this is where we went,’” he said.
After a family trip to Iceland two years ago, a video he edited together blew up on YouTube. A million people have watched it, and suddenly Nicholas’ name is out there. That opened the door for a side job in photography and videography. He has contributed content for Callaway Golf and Greyson Clothiers, among other companies.
"If it works out, it would be great," Nicholas said of the next step. "I love to travel and I do photography and videography on the side so it’s kind of like my side job. . . . It’s going to be fun to travel and kind of combine the two."
When you have so many interests, you’ve got to find a way to marry them.