Mid-Am champ Smith plans to play it safe
Amateurs at Augusta
Byeong-Hun An, 18: Won U.S. Amateur; youngest Amateur champion; will be Cal freshman this fall
Brad Benjamin, 23: Won U.S. Amateur Public Links; Memphis alum has been practicing in South Carolina to prepare for first major championship
Chang-Won Han, 18: Won Asian Amateur; inaugural winner will shape perceptions about Asian Amateur
Matteo Manassero, 16 : Won British Amateur; youngest-ever Masters player was low am at ’09 British Open
Ben Martin, 22: Runner-up at U.S. Amateur; native of nearby Greenwood, S.C., who plays for Clemson is fresh off his first college victory at Furman Invitational
Nathan Smith, 31: Won Mid-Amateur; T-3 in <em>Golfweek/... Amateur Rankings behind No. 1 Manassero
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Nathan Smith’s conservative approach has served him well as a golfer and as an investment adviser.
Smith, 31, won’t overpower Augusta National when he makes his second Masters appearance, but a veteran’s savvy gives him a good chance at becoming the first player to make the cut after being invited for winning the U.S. Mid-Amateur. His aversion to risk helped Executive Wealth Counselors, where he is a partner, to fare relatively well through the economic downturn, he said.
“I think a lot of times you see an athlete’s demeanor on the field may match how they are off the field,’’
he said. “I’m probably more of the conservative type, and you probably see that in my game. . . . I hit it down the middle, hit the green, maybe make a putt. It’s kind of boring.”
That approach has helped Smith win two U.S. Mid-Amateurs (2003, ’09) and earn a spot on last year’s victorious U.S. Walker Cup team.
He is tied for third in the Golfweek/amateurgolf.com Rankings (as of March 25; fellow Masters entrant Matteo Manassero is No. 1).
Peter Uihlein, who teamed with Smith at the Walker Cup and Copa de Las Americas, was impressed with Smith’s course management, especially in contrast to Uihlein’s aggressive style.
“You’ll never see him short-side himself,” Uihlein said. “I put him in some spots at the Walker Cup (in alternate shot) that I don’t think he’s ever fathomed being in.”
Smith, of Pittsburgh, is making his second Masters start. He shot 78-72 in ’04, missing the cut by two shots after making double bogey on his final hole. Smith was paired with Arnold Palmer, a fellow western Pennsylvania native who was making his final Masters appearance.
No reigning Mid-Am champion has made the cut at the Masters since the tournament started inviting the winner in ’89.
“It’s just hard,” said Kevin Marsh, the ’05 Mid-Am winner. “There aren’t that many mid-ams that have the length to compete on that golf course.”
Smith’s ’04 performance tied Trip Kuehne (’08) for the second-lowest total by a player invited as the reigning Mid-Am champion. Danny Green shot 149 in 2000 and missed the cut by one.
Smith said he is hitting the ball higher and longer than in his Masters debut. As a medium-length hitter, he’ll have to be strategic as he works his way around the storied layout.
His father, Larry, will caddie.
“There’s still a lot of those sections of the greens that I can’t hit it high enough to hold,” Smith said, “so I’m just going to have to make some good two-putts.”
He’ll carry a Wilson 8813 blade putter, which he regrets not using in ’04.
The blade’s soft feel should help with Augusta’s speedy surfaces, Smith said.
By the numbers
Here’s a look at how U.S. Mid-Amateur champions have fared at the Masters:
0: 36-hole cuts made
0: Under-par rounds
9.9: Average strokes over cut line
38: Percentage of rounds in 80s (16/42)
78.8: Stroke average
Note: The Mid-Amateur champion has been invited to the Masters since 1989.
– Golfweek research
Smith is a career amateur, a title that carries significance at a tournament so closely associated with its co-founder, the late Bobby Jones. There are six amateurs in this year’s Masters, half of whom are teens. Smith, who plans
to stay in the Crow’s Nest, the traditional amateur lodging above the clubhouse, is the oldest by eight years.
At Allegheny College, Smith was a Division III All-American each year and twice was named All-American Scholar.
Smith didn’t consider turning pro after graduation. “I knew there was kind of another level that I wasn’t at,” he said. Instead, he pursued an MBA, with a concentration in finance, from Allegheny. He is the rare Masters participant with a master’s.
“It seems like if you turn on the U.S. Amateur, and if any mid-ams are going deep (into match play), they’re doing something in finance,” Smith said. “Talking with a lot of them piqued my interest.”
Smith did think about turning pro after his first Masters, before surgery for a torn labrum in his left shoulder a couple of weeks later. He theorizes the injury, which sidelined him for the rest of ’04, was caused by overzealous Masters preparation. He attended PGA Tour Q-School as an amateur in ’05 and advanced out of the first stage. He said his interest in the pro game has passed.
“(Amateur golf) is the perfect fit for me,” Smith said. “I know the minute I’d be driving to some qualifier somewhere, I know I’d totally regret my decision.”
With a chance to make history at the Masters, Smith’s lifestyle investment continues to pay dividends.