First Taste of Spotlight Makes Cummings, 15, Yearn for More August 18, 2015 | Olympia Fields, Ill. By Ron Driscoll, USGA

Though only 15, golf is the second sport that Nicholas Cummings has competed in on a national level, also achieving accolades in squash. (USGA/John Mummert)

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Two years ago this week, Nick Cummings was a 13-year-old taking in the U.S. Amateur Championship at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., watching eventual champion Matthew Fitzpatrick close out a couple of his match-play victories.

“It was 20 minutes from my house, so I went for three days,” said Cummings, 15, of Weston, Mass. “If you had told me then that I would be in this championship two years later, I wouldn’t have believed you.”

Cummings had tried to qualify for the U.S. Junior Amateur twice – including this year – but admittedly did not come close. On July 9, at Pawtucket (R.I.) Country Club, however, he shot his lowest round ever – a 65 – followed by a 69 to tie for medalist honors among the 78 competitors and earn one of the 312 spots in the 115th U.S. Amateur here at Olympia Fields Country Club. He is the fifth-youngest competitor in the field.

“I definitely thought I had a shot at it, but my expectations weren’t really set that high,” admitted Cummings, who is a two-time boys champion in his home state. “I started strong with a birdie on my first hole and never looked back.”

He opened his first USGA championship with a solid round of even-par 70 on Monday, playing with – and matching the score of – none other than reigning NCAA individual champion Bryson DeChambeau, of Southern Methodist.

“I’ve never really played with anyone of that level before,” said Cummings. “It kept me motivated to try and stick with him, and that helped me get through the round. I had a lot of long clubs in; on the first hole [a 500-yard par 4], I hit driver, 5-wood, and that’s not the only hole I was doing that.”

Since Cummings was inspired by Fitzpatrick’s play at Brookline in 2013, he has worked hard on his game, and he has also sprouted. “I’ve grown – a lot, probably 8 inches since then,” said the sophomore-to-be at Weston High. “I practiced a lot and my chipping and putting have gotten considerably better. I’ve also gained a little yardage; I still don’t hit it super-far, but far enough so I can handle a course this long, just barely.”

Cummings played with someone who certainly rivals DeChambeau’s caliber during his two practice rounds at Olympia Fields. A mutual connection matched him with Matt NeSmith, of the University of South Carolina, who played in the 2015 U.S. Open and was the first-round leader here with a 5-under 65.

“My swing coach at Missing Link Golf Academy [in Lakewood Ranch, Fla.] is John Hulbert,” said Cummings. “I’ve been working with him since I was 10 years old – I go down there about three times a year. Another instructor there, Kevin Conley, is the coach for Sean Kelly, a teammate of Matt’s, so I played with them in the practice rounds. I learned a lot from them.”

Cummings also excels competitively in squash. He was ranked fourth in the nation in the 13-and-under division before a couple of hamstring injuries and the growing influence of golf caused his ranking to slip. Still, he competed in national events as recently as last year.

Cummings’ mother, Oxana, and sister, Katerina, 14, accompanied him to Chicago, along with his friend and caddie, Brian Valencia, from his home course, Marlborough Country Club. Cummings’ mother was born in Russia, and moved to Boston’s South End in her early 20s, where she met Nick’s father, Jeff, who is a dentist in nearby Waltham. His mother is also a competitive poker player who recently finished fifth in a World Series of Poker seven-card stud championship.

“She took a little bit of a break when my sister and I were younger, but she plays quite a bit now,” said Cummings. “She said she’d teach me when I get a little older.”

In the meantime, while his second-round 79 left him on the outside looking in at this year’s U.S. Amateur match-play bracket, his presence in the national championship has whetted Cummings’ appetite for more.

“I want to keep evolving – keep getting bigger and longer, and keep hitting it straight,” said Cummings. “This whole experience is really motivating. My high school season starts in a couple of weeks and it’s going to be really hard to go back to nine-hole munis after this.”

The odds are that this will not be Cummings’ only taste of a national championship.

Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at rdriscoll@usga.org.

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