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Utah Championship: Lindheim looking to complete his unlikely rise in golf

July 24, 2016 GMT

Lehi • Skateboarder, cart attendant, PGA Tour player.

That’s the career trajectory Nicholas Lindheim can complete Sunday by winning the Web.com Tour’s Utah Championship at Thanksgiving Point.

The profile of a professional tournament winner usually includes a college golf background and a successful amateur career. That’s basically the bio of 2015 champion Patton Kizzire, being modeled this weekend by Ollie Schniederjans, who stands third entering the final round.

Then there’s Lindheim, who holds a one-stroke lead over J.J. Spaun after shooting a 4-under-par 67 on Saturday and is 13 under for three days. Like a lot of people, Lindheim once watched golf on television and wondered, “How hard can it be?”

Ever since those teenage days, after an elbow injury ended his baseball pitching efforts, the 31-year-old Lindheim has made it look shockingly easy to take up golf and play it well — just not necessarily for a living at the highest level of the sport. His mini-tour pursuits in Florida followed his immersion in golf while he worked in cart barns and played every day in California, as opposed to attending college.

In this third Web.com Tour season, he had made only five cuts in the first 13 events before coming to Lehi, and stands 83rd on the money list with $36,694. Those numbers can change dramatically Sunday, and Lindheim knows it.

That’s why “not getting ahead of myself” was critical Saturday, when he surged into the lead by three strokes in the middle of the back nine. A three-putt bogey at the par-3 No. 17, shortly after Spaun birdied No. 18, reduced the margin to one shot. Schniederjans is two strokes behind, with the last two groups teeing off shortly after 2 p.m. Sunday.

Schniederjans is far and away the most famous player on the leaderboard, having spent nearly a year as the world’s No. 1-ranked amateur during his Georgia Tech days. He’s third on the money list, having won last month’s Air Capital Classic in Kansas. That status “frees you up a lot,” he said.

Spaun competed in the three-way playoff that Schniederjans won in Wichita, and he’s comfortably positioned at No. 15 — with the top 25 as of late August earning PGA Tour access for the 2016-17 season.

Lindheim can exit Utah with that opportunity promised to him, but only if he wins the tournament.

He never has been in this position, although he posted three top-10 finishes in 2015. So merely giving himself this chance by playing well Saturday was a good sign in difficult, windy conditions. The north wind that Thanksgiving Point architect Johnny Miller always talks about was blowing during the third round, driving away smoke from nearby fires but making the last six holes play tough.

Lindheim played that stretch in even par, while Spaun made two birdies to complete his bogey-free 65 and make a big move into second place.

“Just trying to eliminate mistakes and take birdies as they came,” Spaun said of his approach. “Just keeping the ball in front of me and not letting my misses be really bad.”

A former San Diego State golfer, Spaun was PGA Tour Canada’s No. 1 player last year, earning Web.com Tour membership. He’s rising in the second half of the season, becoming accustomed to the weekly schedule. “It’s tough when you’ve never seen these courses before in your life,” he said.

Lindheim’s advantage is that he played well at Thanksgiving Point last July, although he couldn’t maintain a 67-69 start and tied for 29th place. He spoke Saturday of the “demons” all pro golfers face, dealing with pressure. Lindheim conquered them in the third round, with another battle to come.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribkurt