Smith in good shape early at U.S. Mid-Am
RICHMOND, Texas – Nathan Smith is trying to go where no man has ever gone before within the realm of the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship.
The 33-year-old investment advisor from Pittsburgh is attempting to not only become the first player ever to win this title three consecutive years, but also the first to claim four overall crowns in this championship for players 25 years and older.
Smith, the only mid-amateur on the last two U.S. Walker Cup teams, won his first USGA Mid-Amateur in 2003 and followed up with victories the last two years, joining Jay Sigel (1983, ’85, ’87) as the only three-time champions.
His victory last year at Atlantic Golf Club in Bridgehampton, N.Y., made him only the second player to win back-to-back titles in the 30-year history of this event, joining Jim Stuart, who did it in 1990-91.
Smith put himself in good position to make yet another run when he began the 31st U.S. Mid-Amateur with a 2-under 70 in the weather-delayed opening round of stroke-play qualifying Saturday at Shadow Hawk Golf Club.
The Houston area had not seen rain in some 120 days, but it arrived on Saturday along with lightning and thunder. Play was stopped 2:58 p.m. local time and didn’t resume until 5:30. While all of the 132 players in the morning wave completed their rounds, none of those in the afternoon session had finished when they were pulled off the two stroke-play courses.
In addition to Shadow Hawk, The Houstonian is being used for stroke play. When the field is narrowed to 64 players and match play begins on Monday, it will take place at Shadow Hawk.
Those who did not finish their first round when play was called due to darkness will do so first thing Sunday morning, followed by the second round.
Smith’s performance left him two shots behind Mike McCaffrey among those who completed their play in the morning wave. His 70 came at Shadow Hawk and was one stroke higher than David Noll Jr., Scott Kammann, Jimmy Chang, Mike McCoy, Scott Stevens and Chris Chuck.
Still to complete his round was Paul Simson, 60, of Raleigh, N.C., who shot 5-under 31 on his first nine at The Houstonian. Last year, Simson won the U.S., British and Canadian Senior Amateur titles.
Smith said he really hasn’t thought too much of his quest for a third consecutive, and fourth overall, U.S. Mid-Am title.
“I’ve been on the go so much this last month between the (U.S.) Amateur and the Walker Cup,” he said. “Most of my thoughts were centered around the Walker Cup.”
Now that he’s here in Texas, he knows just what it would mean.
“To win one USGA championship is very special,” Smith said. “So to think of winning four, it’s hard to fathom, actually. Really, it would be pretty incredible.”
Smith got off to a solid start. Beginning on the back nine, he birdied the par-4 10th, and added two more at the par-3 17th and par-5 18th.
At the par-5 first hole, he “hit a 3-wood so good the ball went through the fairway into the deep round and under some low hanging tree limbs.” He just tried to advance his ball, but caught a limb and came straight down, eventually making a double-bogey 7. From there, he made seven pars and another birdie at the sixth.
“I played solid on the back nine, but the front side really got tough,” Smith said. “It started raining and was pouring on us for a few holes and the wind really picked up. You just had to fight through it.
“I pleased with 2 under. I think it’s a good, solid score all considered,” he said. “I feel I’m in good shape going into tomorrow. The key in these events is getting into match play. I just want to keep throwing my hat into the ring and hoping something will happen.”
It was a special day for Smith’s father, Larry, as well. He has caddied for his son time after time and is again on his bag this week. On Saturday, Larry, a retired school teacher, celebrated his 64th birthday.
“He’s a real trooper, that’s for sure,” Nathan said. “It’s always great to have him out there with me.”
McCaffrey, 41, and an account executive with the Maxim Group from League City, Texas, looked as though he was going to blow away the field.
After a bogey at the first, the father of five made birdie at No. 5 and then birdied four consecutive holes (7-10). He got it to 6 under with birdies at 12 and 13.
But McCaffrey, who regained his amateur status in February and later won the South Texas Mid-Amateur title, made bogey at 16. He got it back with a birdie at 17 only to close with a double bogey on his final hole.