Golf: Edwards and Nianouris shoot 61 to get Labor Day buzz started

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 31, 2023

Alex Nianouris

By Mike London

SALISBURY — Eric Edwards and Alex Nianouris won state championships together at Salisbury High in 2011 and 2012.

They’re adults now, and as a reunited team, the former Hornet stars are taking aim at the Crowder-Dorsett Memorial Labor Day Four-Ball Championship.

As always, the Country Club of Salisbury’s most prestigious tournament has attracted a stellar field, but in qualifying, Edwards and Nianouris separated themselves. They were four shots better than anyone else who made the 16-man Championship Flight.

The defending champions are Salisbury golf coach Josh Brincefield and High Point University golfer Charlie Barr, who recently made a flurry of birdies in the U.S. Amateur in Colorado, but if anyone is the favorite in an elite tourney where there hasn’t been a repeat champion since 2017-18,  it’s Edwards and Nianouris. As qualifying medalists, they are seeded second.

The 65 fired by Keith Dorsett and Jacob Smith set the pace for the first two days of Four-Ball qualifying, but then Edwards and Nianouris hit the course on Sunday and tore it up. They shot a 61.

Yes, a 61.

“We had a chance at a 59,” Edwards said. “But we parred 17 and 18.”

Back in their high school glory days, Edwards (2011 and 2014) and Nianouris (2009 and 2012) were two-time Rowan County individual champions. Oddly enough, both won county titles their freshman and senior years, so they’ve got that in common. Edwards won at McCanless and Corbin Hills, while Nianouris won both of his county titles at Warrior.

Nianouris was two years older than Edwards and headed to Davidson for college golf.

Edwards opted for George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.

Nianouris had a solid career at Davidson. In 2013, while he was a Davidson student, he reached the finals of the North Carolina Amateur Match Play Championship.

In 2019, Nianouris and former Davidson teammate Ryan Blaney shot a blazing 8-under 62 in Oregon in the stroke play portion of the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship.

Edwards was consistently outstanding at George Mason, a three-time all-conference player in 2016, 2017 and 2018. He graduated in 2018.

When you’re as successful as Edwards was in college, you’re almost obligated to give pro golf a try, and he did.

“For about a year and half,” Edwards said. “I played GPro events, played in some qualifiers for PGA events.As much as I love to play golf, that was a stressful time in my life. You can shoot three good rounds and win a little bit of money, but its not usually enough to meet expenses and fees. About five years ago, I went to work for a representative for an investment company, and that was a great decision for me. A steady paycheck is a lot less stress.”

In the summer of 2016, Edwards and Nianouris played a lot of golf together. Both were in the area. They renewed the friendship from their high school days.

Edwards recalls that an event at Warrior Golf Club was the first time they played together as a two-man team.

In 2021, they teamed up to play in the Labor Day 4-Ball for the first time.

They shot a sizzling 64 to take qualifying medalist honors, but stroke play and match play are two different animals. That was the year the father/son team of Chad and Chase Clayton won the event. The Claytons beat Edwards and Nianouris early in the draw in a brilliant match that went 19 holes.

The Nianouris/Edwards team was put on hold in 2022.

Nianouris lived in Arizona for a while, but he now is back in North Carolina and works for a company called Golf Pride Grips. The Labor Day schedule matched up well this year for Nianouris and Edwards, who is based in Charlotte. So they are back for another fling at the Labor Day prize.

They teamed for 10 birdies and no bogeys during their qualifying round.

“No real looks at eagles but a lot of birdies and we had a pretty good time out there,” Edwards said. “Alex hit it to about 3 feet for a birdie on No. 1, and I did the same thing on No. 2. Then we went 3-under after three holes, and you can’t start a whole lot better than that. That start set the pace for the round. Then we had a stretch where the putts were dropping for us.”

They were still strong down the stretch, making birdies on 15 and 16 before settling for pars on 17 and 18 and putting that 61 on the scoreboard.

Since he was a pro at one time, Edwards had to go through a process of filing with the United States Golf Association to regain his amateur standing so he could be eligible for events like the Labor Day Four-Ball. He says that was no serious obstacle.

“The amount of time you have to wait until your amateur status is restored is dependent on how long you were a pro and how much money you won,” he said. “In my case I didn’t have to wait very long at all.”

So he’s no longer a pro, but there are days like Sunday’s qualifying round when he plays like one.

But Edwards is aware there won’t be any routine matches. He and Nianouris remember vividly how they were qualifying medalists in 2021, but then lost at the outset of match play.

Everyone in the Championship Flight shot at least 69 in qualifying. Everyone in the Championship Flight blends talent with experience.

“Every team that made the Championship Flight is good enough to win the tournament,” Edwards said. “My experience with Four-ball is that you need one guy to get hot and one guy to play consistent. We’ll enjoy the competition and seeing old friends and we’ll see what happens.”

Play starts on Saturday morning.

The 16-team Open Championship Flight will command most of the attention, but there are eight more Open flights with very competitive golfers as well as Senior and Super Senior flights.

Play will conclude on Monday.