Drue Nicholas won the biggest golf tournament of his life Thursday.

The 15-year-old Egg Harbor Township resident, a rising sophomore at St. Augustine Prep, won the Optimist International Junior Golf Championship Boys age 14-15 division in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.

He shot a par 72 at the PGA National Resort and Spa and then won a two-hole playoff against Symon Balbin, of Pinehurst, North Carolina.

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For the three-day tournament, he shot a 2-under 214, with his best round, a 70 on Wednesday.

“This is by far the biggest win for me,” Nicholas said. “Now, to call myself a world champion is kind of sick.”

The victory came less than a month after Nicholas won the Windham Mountain Resort Junior All-Star Tournament in Windham, New York, on July 2. That was an American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) tournament.

“Getting the one national win under my belt put me on the radar,” Nicholas said. “This win put me over for the summer. To do it in the same summer means the world to me.”

Nicholas started Thursday’s round with three birdies. It was smooth sailing until he made a bogey on the 11th hole and followed that with a double-bogey to fall back to even.

“(Putting) is what kept me from getting those scoring opportunities,” said Nicholas, who racked up 34 putts Thursday. “Some reason this week, I got nervous over 3- and 4-footers. I don’t know why, but I did.

“Luckily, I didn’t miss too may greens. That’s what kept me in there, my ball striking. I hit 15 greens (in regulation) each day.”

Nicholas hit the shot of his life, he said, on the par-3 17th hole Thursday. His tee shot from 155 yards out landed 6 feet from the hole to give him a tap-in birdie.

He shot a bogey on the 18th with three putts to force the playoff with Balbin. Nicholas parred both holes, while Balbin failed to match on the second hole, giving Nicholas the win.

“If it wasn’t for those first three holes (of regulation), I wouldn’t be where I am now. Those three holes stood out,” Nicholas said.

Nicholas has two more tournaments left this year, both on the AJGA tour. He will play at the AJGA Junior at Fiddler’s Elbow in Bedminster, Somerset County, from Aug. 7-10. He’ll also play the Justin Rose Junior All-Star Invitational at Reynolds Lake Oconee from Oct. 6-9 in Greensboro, Georgia.

That will be his final tournament before his sophomore season at St. Augustine next spring.

“Winning (Thursday) puts my summer over the top,” Nicholas said. “It’s kind of surreal. I remember growing up and looking up to kids who win world championship. They weren’t really human, and just so good. To be that kid now, it’s pretty awesome.”

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609-272-7210 JRusso@pressofac.com Twitter @ACPress_Russo

I graduated from Rowan University in 2011 where I studied journalism. I covered local high school and college sports at the South Jersey Times and Vineland Daily Journal. I have been a sports reporter with The Press since July of 2013

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