Golf isn't Reach's only priority this week

ATHENS, Ga. -- Unlike the Nationwide Tour pros who arrived in Athens this week to compete in the Stadion Classic at UGA, Nicholas Reach’s only priority is not his golf game.

This is final exam week at Georgia and Reach has two exams to take Wednesday -- the day before he’ll tee off as one of two amateurs in the tournament field. It’s a situation that he believes will be both good and bad.

“I think it kind of gets my mind off of golf a little bit, if that makes sense, during the week,” said Reach, a freshman who earned a sponsor’s exemption to compete in the tournament by ranking as one of the top two players on Georgia’s golf team along with sophomore Brian Carter. “But at the same time, you only get this opportunity once a year that the pros are in, so you want to be out there and have fun -- even if you’re not practicing, just being out there around those guys and learning as much as you can. And you’re also grinding in the classroom along with grinding in practice rounds and after the round and before the round.

“It can be a little bit distracting in a negative way, but I also think it can turn into a positive, as well.”

Although he is only 19, the Moscow, Pa., native already has a surprising amount of experience competing at this level. This will be his fourth Nationwide Tour event, having competed in the Moscow-based Northeast Pennsylvania Classics in 2008 and 2009 and the 2011 Melwood Prince George’s County Open.

In fact, when he played his first round at the 2008 event, he was one of the youngest players ever to compete in a Nationwide Tour event at 16 years, 3 months and 9 days old -- and yet he still shot a sparkling 67 in the first round.

He believes that experience can only help this week when he once again faces a professional field.

“I think it absolutely does,” Reach said. “Maybe just playing one doesn’t do much for me, but I’ve played three so I know what to expect. I think that’s the biggest thing going into it, especially as a younger kid and a freshman in college.”

In an odd twist, Reach caddied for UGA graduate Scott Parel at the Northeast Pennsylvania Open in 2007. Now Reach will compete alongside Parel and six other UGA products -- defending champion Russell Henley, Hudson Swafford, Paul Claxton, Justin Bolli, Richard Scott and Matt McQuillan -- this week in the Stadion Classic at UGA.

Only one amateur had ever won a Nationwide Tour event before Henley marched to victory on the UGA course a year ago. Even before he validated his plan during the tournament, Henley maintained that his intention was to win despite the long odds he faced as an amateur competitor.

Playing to win is the only way to play well, Reach said, although he also hopes to keep things light while striving for a victory.

“My mindset has always been just to go out and have fun, especially in tournaments like this -- putting as much emphasis on having as much fun as I can, especially playing against the best players in the world,” Reach said. “But I think at the same time, your approach is always to win every tournament that you enter.

“You can’t be playing just to make the cut because if you’re doing that, then the probability of you making the cut is going to be much smaller than if you’re going out there to have fun and trying to win the tournament.”