RICHMOND, Texas – For Nathan Smith, the quest for history goes on.
Trying to become the first player to win three consecutive U.S. Mid-Amateur Championships – and four total – Smith made his way into the second round of this year’s event by defeating Scott Weeks, 3 and 2, Monday at Shadow Hawk Golf Club.
Smith, 33, a financial adviser from Pittsburgh, set a U.S. Mid-Am record with the victory, now having won 13 straight matches. He broke a tie with Jim Stuart, who won this title in 1990 and ‘91, but lost in his opening round of the 1992 event.
“A new record, that’s nice,” said Smith, who played nine holes in the morning to complete his second round in qualifying. “It’s amazing. Every year, every match, gets harder and harder. The thing is, you not only have to play well; you have to have some luck, as well.
“I’ve played well the last couple of years (in this championship) and have had some good fortune go my way,” said Smith, the only mid-amateur on the past two U.S. Walker Cup teams.
Smith was 2 up after nine holes and went to 3 up when Weeks made bogey at No. 13. The two halved the next two holes and the match ended.
“I dodged a few bullets out there,” Smith said. “Scott played well, and it was a really close, hard-fought match.
“The thing is, there are so many good players out here now. You just have to come ready to play and put one foot in front of the other,” he said. “You just have to keep going.”
With his success in match play, especially these past three years in the U.S. Mid-Amateur, Smith was asked what he thought the key to this good run has been.
With a huge smile, he said, “I guess I’d have to say my match-play secret is I have the oldest, most experienced caddie out here.”
Smith was referring to his father, Larry, the 64-year-old retired schoolteacher who is looping for his son this week and has caddied in the bulk of Smith’s tournaments, including each of his previous three U.S. Mid-Am victories.
The 36-hole stroke-play qualifying did not finish until late Monday morning after weather delays on each of the first two days. The initial match, originally scheduled for 7:30 a.m., did not tee off until 12:15 p.m. The final match of the opening round started at 4:55 p.m.
Those not finishing their first-round matches will do so beginning at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday, when the second round will begin at the first tee.
Like the Energizer Bunny, Paul Simson keeps going and going and going and going.
At age 60 and the oldest player in the match-play field, Simson followed his tie for third in stroke-play qualifying with an impressive 5-and-4 victory over Michael Standard in the opening round.
Simson was 2 up after two holes, but the match was all-square through the eighth. Simson won the next three holes with birdies to go 3 up, won the 12th with a par and the 13th with a birdie to make it 5 up with five to play.
“The key was the 11th hole,” said Simson, who last week was medalist and a quarterfinalist at the U.S. Senior Amateur, which he won in 2010. “I chipped in from 10 yards off the green for birdie. Then things get pretty simple when you’re 5 up with five to play. You just need to make pars.
“I’m a little tired right now, so I just want to get my feet up and take it easy,” Simson said. “I know tomorrow (double round) could be a long day if I win in the morning.”
Still, Simson is hardly intimidated playing against younger guys, even the college kids.
“I play a lot of senior golf, but it’s still a lot of fun playing against the young guys,” Simson said. “Coming in this week, I fully expected to qualify (for match play). I would have been disappointed if I didn’t. The thing is, I wouldn’t enter (a tournament) if I didn’t feel I had a chance for some success. But I try not to have expectations. I just go out with confidence and try to play as hard as I can. I still feel I can keep up with these young guys.”
The most exciting comeback of the opening round came when Chris Congdon rallied to a 1-up victory over Andes Gaviria. Congdon was 5 down after eight holes and was 4 down with six holes to play.
He won Nos. 13, 14 and 15 to get to 1 down, then squared the match with a par at the 17th. At the par-5 18th, Congdon was on the green in regulation while Gaviria hit his drive left into a hazard, had to take a drop, tried to hack his way out and left the ball in the hazard and conceded the hole.
“I wasn’t playing very well early on, but I told myself to grind it out and make some birdies,” Congdon said. “I birdied No. 9 from about 10 feet and No. 10 from 8 feet, and that got me going.
“I started hitting greens and he started missing them, so I was able to win some holes,” said Congdon, a reinstated amateur playing in his first U.S. Mid-Amateur.
“I had to play nine holes this morning (to complete the second round of stroke play) and now went 18 holes, so I’m pretty exhausted right now. I’m going to take a shower and just kick back.”
This marks the first time Congdon has played in match play in a USGA championship. He qualified for the U.S. Amateur in 1991 and ’92 but failed to reach the round of 64 in either.