LAKE FOREST, Ill. – Tim Jackson is trying to put his name in the U.S. Golf Association record book and become only the third player to win three U.S. Mid-Amateur Championships.
Nathan Smith is trying to do him one better. Smith, along with Jay Sigel, has already won three of these titles and now has his sights set at a record fourth title in this championship.
One of the two will have their quest come to an end Wednesday afternoon as Jackson and Smith face each other in the semifinals of the 32nd U.S. Mid-Amateur at Conway Farms Golf Club.
Both players won their quarterfinal matches Wednesday morning. Jackson, 53, of Germantown, Tenn., and the 1994 and 2001 champion, defeated Dennis Bull, 30, of Norwalk, Iowa, 3 and 2. Smith, 34, of Pittsburgh, and winner of this event in 2003, ‘09 and ‘10, sank a 15-foot birdie putt on the par-5 18th hole to edge Corby Segal, 41, of Santa Clara, Calif.
Wednesday’s other semifinal pits Todd White, 44, of Spartanburg, S.C., against Garrett White, 25, of Canada, who was the youngest player in the starting field of 264.
White, a high school history teacher at Hilton Head Island High School, turned back Casey Boyns, 56, of Monterey, Calif., 2 and 1, while Rank, who just graduated from the University of Waterloo and is an official in the Ontario Hockey League, eased past Matthew Mattare, 26, of New York, N.Y. 3 and 2.
Jackson never trailed in his match, winning No. 2 with a par, 3 with a birdie, 5 with par and 7 with par to go 4 up. Bull came back and won the ninth with birdie and 10th with par. After Jackson won the 12th and Bull the 14th, the two-time U.S. Walker Cup team member birdied 15 to go 3 up. It ended when the two halved the 16th.
“I just really felt comfortable out there today,” said Jackson, who earlier this year won yet another Tennessee State Amateur title. “I felt good over the ball and the club just felt right in my hands.
“You have to have some luck to win at this level, especially in match play,” Jackson said. “I’ve had some this week, but I’ve also had some good stretches where I’ve played very well. Right now, I’m not looking too far ahead and just trying to keep enjoying myself.”
For Smith, it was yet another nail-biting match, one that followed his 19-hole victory Tuesday afternoon over his good friend from Western Pennsylvania, Sean Knapp.
Segal, a PGA Tour caddy who most recently has looped for Briny Baird, was 2 up after three holes. Smith got the match all square after No. 8, but Segal went back on top with a birdie at No. 9.
Smith then won Nos. 13 and 14 with birdies to take his first lead only to have Segal win 15 with a birdie to square things.
At the 18th, Segal hit his wedge shot approach to within 12 feet and Smith followed by leaving his third shot just behind his opponent, which would give him a good read.
Smith then drained his birdie putt and Segal came up just short with his effort to send the match into extra holes.
“I think I just kind of blacked out on that last putt. I guess it went in,” said Smith, who was a semifinalist last year and now has a 30-4 in U.S. Mid-Am match-play record. “It was just another tough, well-played match.”
Now Smith takes on Jackson, someone he knows very well both on and off the golf course.
“I really don’t want any of him but I have no choice,” Smith said with a big smile of his match with Jackson. “He’s playing great and playing maybe some of the best golf of his life. I know I’ll have my hands full again just trying to hang with him.”
White, the No. 2 match-play seed, jumped out to a 3-up lead after four holes. Boyns, a professional caddie at Pebble Beach Golf Links for some 30 years, won No. 9 with a birdie, but White came back to win 11 with a par.
White was 3 up after 14 holes when Boyns won 15 with a par. The two halved 16 and 17 and the match ended.
“I got up early and pretty much managed to keep the ball in play and putting it on the green and that was the key,” said White, whose best previous finish in a USGA Championship came in 2003 when he reached the Sweet 16 at the U.S. Amateur. “Casey played well, especially toward the end and it was a tough match.
“To play this well in a USGA event feels great,” White said. “I mean, to be among the last four guys still standing from 3,000 or so entries is pretty special. But I know I still have a lot of work ahead of me.”
Rank still has yet to play the 17th and 18th holes at Conway Farms in match play. He has dominated all week and continued to do so again, although Mattare kept things close for a long time.
Rank, a member of Golf Canada’s national team, was 2 up after 10 holes, but Mattare charged back and won 11 with par and 12 with birdie to square the match.
Rank then put things away, winning 14 and 15 with birdies and closing it out by winning the 16th with a par.
“The turning point was on 14,” Rank said. “(Mattare) was in there about six feet for birdie. I ran my eagle putt about eight feet by the hole. I made the putt and then he missed his.”
Rank had this to say about his play this week: “I’ve had stretches of playing great golf, but not a full week like this. I just want to keep it going. Hopefully, I won’t have to play those last two holes.”
• • •
Tim Jackson def. Dennis Bull, 3 and 2
Nathan Smith def. Corby Segal, 1 up
Todd White def. Casey Boyns, 2 and 1
Garrett Rank def. Matthew Mattare, 3 and 2