Walker Cup dreams alive at Western Am

LAKE FOREST, Ill. – Nathan Smith and Mike McCoy both know how difficult it is for a mid-amateur to be selected to the Walker Cup team. They are well aware that only one player from the 25-and-older set was among the 10 players on the 2007 U.S. team and that no mid-ams were on the 2005 squad.

But just about everyone would agree that if the USGA names any mid-ams to this year’s Walker Cup team, for which eight players are expected to be announced Monday, it will be Smith or McCoy – maybe both.

They are among the dozen or so Walker Cup hopefuls feeling the pressure as they compete this week in the 107th Western Amateur Championship at Conway Farms Golf Club, where a good showing could go a long way with the selection committee.

Smith and McCoy easily passed step one Wednesday in the grueling Western Am, making the 36-hole cut of the low 44 scores and ties, which fell at 5-over-par 147. They will play 36 holes Thursday, hoping to finish among the top 16 after 72 holes and qualify for match play.

Smith, 30, the 2003 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion, followed an opening-round 70 with a 69 and stands at 3-under-par 139; McCoy is at 2-over 144 after rounds of 71-73.

Kevin Tway, who will be a junior this fall at Oklahoma State and shared the first-round lead with two others, stands alone at the top of the leaderboard. He shot 2-under 69 for a 6-under 136 total.

One shot behind are Luke Guthrie (69) and Andrea Pavan (68), and in at 4-under 138 are Sihwan Kim and Byeong-Han An, who had the day’s best round, a 4-under 67.

While McCoy has been a fixture at the Western Am, this is only the second time Smith has competed in the event, the first being in 2005, when he made the Sweet 16 but lost his opening-round match.

“You know there is pressure on you, but it’s been a long summer, and right now you just get kind of numb to it,” said Smith, who has had five top-20 finishes in top amateur events this summer, including three top 10s and highlighted by a tie for fourth at Sunnehanna. “I feel I’ve had a very good summer, and it’s been a lot of fun.

“Playing in the Walker Cup is every amateur’s dream, and I know for me it would be a great honor, especially being at Merion and being a Pennsylvania guy,” said Smith, from Pittsburgh, and winner of just about every top tournament in the state. “I think it’s a pretty wide-open race right now. There are so many good players out there. It’s just an honor to be mentioned among them.”

At 46, this is probably McCoy’s last realistic hope of playing in his first Walker Cup.

“There’s a lot of pressure on a number of us out here,” said McCoy, who last week tied for fourth at the Porter Cup. “But you try to think about what you are trying to do and go out and play the golf course.

“You want to play well because the Western Amateur is an important tournament anyway,” he said. “Then you throw in how close it is to when the USGA selects a big portion of this year’s Walker Cup team and it just adds to the pressure.

“After all these years of trying, playing, it would be fantastic to make the team,” McCoy said. “It would definitely be the highlight of my golfing career.”

The USGA will fill the team’s final two spots after the U.S. Amateur, scheduled Aug. 24-30 at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Okla. The eight players named Monday will be exempt into that championship.

Smith already has been successful in his U.S. Amateur qualifier. McCoy is scheduled to play in a 36-hole qualifier at Des Moines (Iowa) Golf Club on Monday.

Of course, McCoy would not be one bit disappointed if he doesn’t tee it up at all that day. It would mean the call he has long awaited from the USGA had come in and he would be representing his country at Merion Golf Club on Sept. 12-13.

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