04 May 18
Victory in the Silversea PGA Senior Professional Championship at Foxhills would mean former European Tour player Mark Nichols having to convert his prize money into rubles and exporting the trophy to Russia, writes Adrian Milledge.
It’s tempting to assume Mark Nichols will be somewhat ring-rusty when he tees off in the Silversea PGA Senior Professional Championship at Foxhills later this month.
After all, based in Moscow where snow often coats the fairways in April and the average temperature hovers above freezing, what chance will he have had to practise?
Assumptions, however, can be erroneous. In reality, Nichols has had plenty of opportunities to polish the skills with which he competed on the European Tour in the 1990s and made the cut in The Open at St Andrews in 1995.
A rapid thaw at the start of April that saw temperatures rocket from -10 to +20 within the space of four days left his local courses in what he described as “the best condition I’ve ever seen them in before June”.
In addition, two weeks in Turkey coaching individual clients afforded the 52-year-old time to hone his own game.
By contrast, because of the incessant rain that closed courses in Great Britain and Ireland with depressing frequency during March and April, there’s a chance his home-based rivals will be the ones lacking practice.
For Nichols, meanwhile, participation in the tournament that carries a £40,000 prize fund marks the start of some serious competitive action.
“I love tournament golf,” said Nichols, who played in the event two years ago and finished tied sixth.
“So I’m really looking forward to playing at Foxhills and then trying to qualify for the Senior British Open. It’s at St Andrews this year and I’d love to go back there after my experience in 1995. It would be a real trip down memory lane.”
Closer to home Nichols is hoping for an invitation to play in another Staysure Senior Tour event – the Russia Open Golf Championship at the Moscow Country Club in August.
The invite would be a result of Nichols becoming a well-known figure in Russian golf since he was appointed director of golf at Tselevo Golf and Polo Club in 2007.
He followed that with a lengthy spell at Moscow City Golf Club before embarking on his current role as head coach to the Moscow Golf Federation and freelance coach to private clients.
As well as coaching individuals, Nichols, who reckons the number of golfers in Russia has doubled to 4,000 in the 11 years he has been in the country, has been playing his part in growing the game there.
“I teach 400 students aged between eight and 15 attending the International School in Moscow for six weeks in a row,” he said. “There are a lot of nationalities involved including plenty of Russians.”
In what has been an interesting and challenging journey, Nichols coached former World number one tennis player and French and Australian Open champion Yevgeny Kafelnikov when he played on the European and Challenge Tours.
The journey has also seen him marry a Russian girl, start a family, learn the language and be granted residency – factors that have contributed to him staying in Russia for more than a decade.
“Being able to speak Russian means I can teach anyone now,” he said. “The language barrier meant some people were reluctant to be taught by me before.
“It has also enabled me to get to know the people better. Russians are friendly, very similar to British people and, it may come as a surprise, they have a great sense of humour.
“And having residency means I can come and go from the country as I please. I can travel back to the UK with my four-year-old daughter so that she can see her grandparents without having to get visas.”
That will be the scenario when Nichols heads for Foxhills later this month.
While his daughter gets reacquainted with her grandparents, Nichols will be trying to improve on his performance of two years ago when he finished six shots behind Robert Arnott, the winner.
Should he do so then, as well as claiming the £6,000 winner’s cheque, he will end what has become a private game of pass the trophy between Arnott and Fraser Mann, the defending champion who also won the event in 2015.
As well as the pursuit for prize money that will take place over both courses at the Surrey resort and will involve two negotiations of the Bernard Hunt for the players who make the cut and one of the Longcross, the top 15 will qualify for the Staysure PGA Seniors Championship on the Staysure Tour, which will be staged at the London Club in August.
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