IRVING, Texas — Fun-loving PGA Tour rookie James Nitties can get serious, too.
While not shy about his tour bio that lists his special interests as clubbing, girls and movies, the 26-year-old Australian is trying to stay focused on a stretch of tournaments that could culminate with a spot in the U.S. Open.
“It’s not easy, but I just made an executive decision where I have to play well over the next five weeks,” Nitties said. “It’s not just fun and games out here.”
Nitties finished with four consecutive birdies for a five-under 65 Thursday to share the first-round lead at the HP Byron Nelson Championship with Ken Duke, another surprise at the top of the leaderboard.
Duke snapped a streak of 11 consecutive rounds in the 70s to share the first-round lead for only the second time in his 118 career starts.
His putt at No. 18 stopped three inches from the hole, or he could have had another birdie and the outright lead.
“You think you should do better than you’re doing, and then you press the issues and don’t just let it come to you,” the 40-year-old Duke said. “I guess that’s kind of what I’ve done.”
Until the Nelson, when he had five birdies over eight holes after being even through the first eight.
Mike Weir of Bright’s Grove, Ont., Scott McCarron, Charles Howell III and Brad Adamonis shot 66s, and Jesper Parnevik and Tommy Armour III were among a group of a dozen players with 67s.
Nitties, who appeared on the Golf Channel’s Big Break series and finished second at the PGA Tour qualifying tournament last fall, was one under through 14 holes. After seeing the scores, he figured he’d be in decent shape with one more birdie.
Nitties then knocked his approach within five feet at the 504-yard 15th, and six feet at the par-five 16th. After a 13-foot birdie at the 198-yard 17th — his longest made putt of the day — he closed with another five-footer.
“It was not the best ball-striking round, but it was a smart round,” Nitties said.
He made the cut in seven of his first 14 tournaments. His best finish was a tie for fourth in the FBR Open at TPC Scottsdale, renowned as the biggest party stop on the PGA Tour. The Nelson also is known for its lively atmosphere.
“There are a lot of good sights out here, but my best result was at one of the biggest party events of the PGA Tour and no-one thought I would do half decent in that,” Nitties said.
“I know when to put distractions and golf into two parts.”
As for those special interests listed on his bio, Nitties describes it as “pretty brutally honest” and normal for a single 26-year-old.
“I love going to the movies. I love hanging out with mates and having a couple of drinks in bars and chasing girls,” he said.
“It’s typical of a guy. I’m just the only one that actually says it and doesn’t say I like hanging out and fishing, when I really do normal stuff.”