Johnstown, Pa. – Seventeen years ago, Nathan Smith came to the Sunnehanna Amateur for the first time as a high school sophomore, fresh off a Pennsylvania high school golf championship and performances in a high school musical.
It was a wake-up call.
“I finished last … and by a landslide,” said the two-time defending U.S. Mid-Amateur champion.
Those memories are a distant memory now.
Trailing leader Will Collins by five shots heading into the final round, Smith rallied with a 4-under 66 to finish in a three-way tie atop the leaderboard, and went 2 under in a four-hole playoff to win the Sunnehanna.
“I fought as hard as I could all day, just trying to hang inthere,” said the 32-year-old Smith, who made a big statement in his efforts to secure a spot on the Walker Cup later this year. “I had some breaks go my way, but that’s just golf. You can’t back into wins anymore with the way the young guys play the game. You have to go get it, or they will.”
Zac Blair, a junior at Brigham Young University, fired a final-round 68 to post at 8 under. He had a chance on No. 18 to win the tournament, but his 10-foot putt for par slid by, opening the door for Smith.
Lee Bedford was the last player to have a chance to win, but he needed to birdie No. 18 to do so. His approach shot to the 373-yard par 4, missed the green and his attempt at a chip-in was well short.
Smith quickly took the mystery out of the playoff. Bedford bogeyed the first hole, while Smith and Blair parred. Smith birdied the second, while Blair bogeyed and Bedford parred. Blair bogeyed the next hole, Smith birdied again, while Bedford made par.
So it really didn’t matter that Smith bogeyed the last hole. He finally got the chance to put on the Sunnehanna green jacket after several top-five finishes, including last year when he finished second.
“I lot of years I’ve had to come from behind here and there I was again today,” Smith said. “So this one means a lot. I’m just thrilled.”
The day started out looking like a two-man battle between Bedford and Collins, the overnight leader, but neither played very well. A four-putt on No. 16 (a par 3) gave Collins a double bogey and demolished his chances.
“I just made a couple bad swings, that’s the way it goes,”said Collins, whose second putt on No. 16 was a 1-footer that turned into a 4-footer coming back. “Again, I was there on Sunday afternoon and I’m going to learn from this.”
Bedford felt fortunate to have hung in as well as he did.
“I just didn’t have it today, that’s all there was to it,” said Bedford. “Not a lot went right and I knew it was going to be that way when I hitmy tee shot on 2. It was that low, left shot that I fight and it showed up off and on all day. I tried to fight through it, that’s all I could do.”
• Smith got back into contention when he eagled the 381-yard, par 4 third hole. Smith started the day at 4 under and the eagle moved him to 6 under.
• The tournament ended with three rounds having been affected by weather. A late morning storm passed quickly through the area, resulting in a one-hour and 10-minute delay.
• Huntingdon, West Virginia amateur Pat Carter, a long-time participant in the Sunnehanna Amateur, recorded the only hole-in-one of the week, a 5-iron shot that found the cup on the 182-yard, par 3 16th.