Gilliam wears two hats at U.S. Am: Player and FootJoy rep

Nick Gilliam, the 2001 NCAA Individual Champion and current amateur promotions manager for FootJoy, walks up to No. 17 during the 112th U. S. Amateur Championship at Cherry Hills Country Club.

CHERRY HILLS VILLAGE, Colo. - For the second consecutive year - and in only his second U.S. Amateur - Nick Gilliam failed to advance to the 64-player, match-play field this week at Cherry Hills Country Club and CommonGround Golf Club.

Basically it wasn’t close. Gilliam, after a first nine holes of even par at CommonGround on Monday, soared to an 8-over 42 on his final nine for a 78. His 2-over 73 at Cherry Hills on Tuesday left him at 10-over 151, a long distance from the cut line.

Unlike the other 247 players who also fell into this category after the two stroke-play qualifying rounds and were packing up and heading out either Tuesday evening or Wednesday morning, Gilliam would be back out to Cherry Hills Wednesday through Sunday morning to take in match-play competition.

For Gilliam, 33, of Gainesville, Fla., it’s back to work at his everyday job as amateur promotions manager at FootJoy.

“I think I have the best job of anyone in the Acushnet Company,” Gilliam said. “I really have the best of both worlds. And the great thing is with my job, when I’m playing golf I’m still representing the brand. I’m very fortunate to be able to carry that torch.

“I have to kind of mix and match with what I do, but even when I’m playing, I feel I’m working in that I hope I represent FootJoy and Achusnet well,” Gilliam said. “I hope when I’m playing with these young guys that I’m able to help in educating them. Mainly, I hope to lead by example.”

No doubt there are many out there asking, “So who is this Nick Gilliam guy, anyway?”

A little-known - or maybe I should say a forgotten - fact is that as senior captain at Florida, Gilliam won the NCAA individual title while leading the Gators to the team championship in 2001 at Duke Golf Club in North Carolina. It was his first collegiate victory and came in his last collegiate start.

He turned pro later that year when, as a native of Green Bay, Wis., he landed a sponsor exemption into the PGA Tour’s Greater Milwaukee Open.

“It was my first tournament as a pro, kind of like Tiger Woods a few years earlier at the GMO,” said Gilliam, then added with a laugh, “but unlike Tiger, I didn’t say ‘Hello, World.’ And, unlike Tiger, I missed the cut.”

For the next eight years, he bounced around the mini-tours, winning one event on the then-Hooters Tour, now the NGA Tour. But he had enough top-5 and top-10 finishes to at least keep afloat financially. He played in a handful of PGA Tour events and qualified, as a pro, for the 2005 U.S. Open, where he missed the cut.

Finally, in 2008 he got tired of the travel and the mini-tour life, as well as “just not being as passionate about the game as I once was.”

He said he talked with his Florida coach, Buddy Alexander, whom Gilliam said was very helpful. “Pretty much he told me, if I wasn’t getting better every year, it might be time to think about making a (career) change.”

After putting the clubs in the closest, he started looking around for his Plan B, but that wasn’t exactly an ideal time within the business world. He thought about getting into insurance, maybe coaching, and did some golf teaching.

Then he landed a job with InfoTech in Gainesville, a privately held software company. He was there for a year when his good friend and former Florida assistant coach Chris Tuten told him about a possible opening at Achusnet Co. Gilliam applied, put his name in the pool, and in January 2010 got the job, the one he has today.

“I pretty much didn’t play for about two years,” said Gilliam, who was a quarterfinalist at the 1996 U.S. Junior Amateur. “The more I watched golf (with his new job), the more I thought it would be fun to start playing again.”

In October 2010, the USGA reinstated his amateur status and he has been playing in various tournaments when his time allows or he is able to qualify. In 2011, he won the Travis Invitational at Garden City (N.J.) Golf Club. This year, he played in such prestigious tournaments at the Northeast Amateur and Western Amateur.

Next month, he’ll be in the Chicago area a few days for the U.S. Mid-Amateur. But the Titleist/FootJoy hat that he wears won’t be that of a participant. For the second year in a row, Gilliam missed qualifying for the Mid-Am by one shot.

“It’s kind of odd. I’ve qualified for the U.S. Am the last two years, but haven’t been able to qualify for the U.S. Mid-Am,” he said.

Gilliam is disappointed he won’t be in the starting field at Conway Farms Golf Club in Lake Forrest, Ill., but there’s no doubt as he makes his way around the course and mingles with the players, Gilliam will be smiling.

That’s something that comes easy when you have the job that combines the best of both worlds in golf: playing and working, especially within the amateur game.

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