RICHMOND, Texas – Come Thursday, either Nathan Smith or Randall Lewis will have an opportunity to make U.S. Amateur Championship history.
Each won his respective quarterfinal match Wednesday morning, and they will face each other in one of the two semifinal matches in the 31st edition of the national championship for players 25 years and older.
Smith won his 16th consecutive U.S. Mid-Am match when he came from behind to beat Mike Stamberger, 2 and 1, while Lewis turned back No. 1 seed Mike McCaffrey, the stroke-play-qualifying medalist, 3 and 1.
The other semifinal match Wednesday afternoon pits John Engler, who turned back Mike Muehr, 3 and 2, against Kenny Cook, a 3-and-2 winner over Tony Behrstock.
Smith, the only true amateur among the final four, is on a quest to become the first player in this championship’s history to win three consecutive titles and four overall.
Lewis, at age 54, will try to become the tournament’s oldest champion, bettering George Zahringer, who was 49 when he won in 2002.
Stamberger, 39, won the first two holes with birdies against Smith, 33, and was 2 up through the first nine holes. Smith, the only mid-am on the past two U.S. Walker Cup teams, won the 10th hole with a par, then squared the match with a birdie at the 12th.
Smith took his first lead with a birdie at 15 and went 2 up with a par at 16. The match ended when they halved 17.
“It was tough,” Smith said of his morning match. “I really had to gut it out. All the putts I made yesterday just dried up, at least on the front side. I feel OK and, more importantly, my caddie (his 64-year-old father, Larry) is hanging in there.”
A father of five from nearby League City, McCaffrey was 1 up through seven holes, but Lewis charged back and won holes 8, 9, and 10 to go 2 up. McCaffrey, who regained his amateur status in February, won the 11th, but Lewis closed things out by winning No. 16 with a par and No. 17 with a birdie.
“Overall, it was a great week,” McCaffrey said. “By all rights, I probably shouldn’t have even made it past the first round (a win in 20 holes). So to get to the quarterfinals and in my first USGA championship, I certainly can’t complain.”
Muehr, 39, took an early lead on Engler, 32, at the second hole. It was all Engler after that. Trying to become the first left-hander to win this championship, Engler won the fourth hole with a par and went 1 up with a par at No. 8.
Engler built his cushion to 4 up when he won holes 10 and 12 with pars and 14 with a birdie. After Muehr won the 15th, the match ended when they halved No. 16.
“I don’t think I scored very well, and I don’t think Mike played his best,” Engler said. “You hate to see that when you get this far in the game. I was very fortunate to be able to win holes where I needed to win holes.
“Physically, I feel a lot better than I thought. I’m sure there has to be some adrenaline. You have to take it all in stride, walk a little slower and do the things you need to do (to keep from getting tired).”
Cook, 31, never trailed against the 44-year-old Behrstock. Birdies at Nos. 2 and 5 put Cook 2 up, but Behrstock won the 10th with birdie. Cook followed by winning 11 with a par and 14 with a birdie, and the match ended after the two halved the next two holes.