Former champ Smith advances to Mid-Am quarters

Sean Knapp (left) lost to long-time friend Nathan Smith in the 2012 U.S. Mid-Amateur.

Sean Knapp (left) lost to long-time friend Nathan Smith in the 2012 U.S. Mid-Amateur.

LAKE FOREST, Ill. – A few years ago, there was a popular weekly TV sitcom called “Friends.”

If it were still in production, they could have sent a crew out to Conway Farms Golf Club on Tuesday and filmed a couple of segments featuring a different cast of characters.

The first segment would have two best friends from Rhode Island squaring off against each other in the morning’s second round at this year’s 32nd U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship.

It would have proved quite exciting and entertaining. In the showdown between the two left-handers and leading amateurs in the Ocean State: Charlie Blanchard, 47, making birdie at the 18th hole for a 2-up victory over Brad Valois, 25.

The two have played close to 100 rounds of golf together and next week will be teammates – and roommates – in representing Rhode Island at the USGA State Team Championship at Galloway (N.J.) National Golf Club.

Then, Tuesday afternoon, segment No. 2 featured two close friends who are among the best amateurs in Pennsylvania going at it.

Also teammates for next week’s State Team Championship, Nathan Smith, 34, and a three-time U.S. Mid-Amateur champ, went head-to-head with Sean Knapp, 50, who earlier this year was second-low amateur at the U.S. Senior Open. Over the years, they, too, have played countless rounds of golf together while dominating amateur competition in the Quaker State.

And what a show they put on, going 19 holes before Smith came out on top to move into the quarterfinals.

“It’s tough to go up against a great friend,” Smith said. “It was an ESPN Classic match. Sean is such a great player, and I hope I never have to go up against him again.”

The two have been friends for years. In fact, Knapp was the best man at Smith’s wedding, and they were teammates when Pennsylvania won the State Team Championship in 2009. The two are members of the St. Jude Golf Club in Chicora.

“We talked a little bit out there,” said Smith, a member of the last two U.S. Walker Cup teams. “A couple times, we gave each other a fist pump when one of us made a good putt. But overall, we were into our own games.”

Knapp won the opening hole, but Smith came back and won Nos. 3 and 4 to go 1 up. Knapp then won Nos. 6 and 9 to take the lead, only to have Smith win No. 15 with a birdie to square things.

Knapp went 1 up with a par at the 16th, but Smith answered with a par at 17 to square it again. At the par-5 18th, Smith missed a 10-foot downhill slider for birdie and they halved with pars.

At the par-4 first hole, Knapp ran into trouble and ended up clipping trees with his second and third shots, resulting in a bogey after Smith was on the green in regulation and won with a par.

“Coming down the stretch we were neck-and-neck, and I just tried to stay with him,” Smith said. “Sean has played well all summer, and he’s the best player in our state. He’s playing the best I’ve ever seen him play, so I feel fortunate to have hung in there and come out on top.”

• • •

In other Sweet 16 matches

• Two-time U.S. Mid-Amateur winner Tim Jackson, 53, of Germantown, Tenn. defeated John Patterson, 41, of Bluffton, S.C., 4 and 2. Jackson never trailed in the match and was 4 up after 13 holes.

“You always hope to play your best game when you need it and survive the tough stretches, and that’s what I did,” Jackson said. “I was tired this afternoon, but I played solid.

“It’s a little disadvantage being as old as I am, but I’m still very motivated and still have the desire, and I think that carries a lot of weight toward success,” Jackson said.

• Dennis Bull, 30, of Norwalk, Iowa, won No. 17 with a par and No. 18 with birdie en route to a 2-up victory over Charlie Blanchard, 47, of North Providence, R.I.

Bull now faces Jackson in the quarters in a matchup of opposites, in terms of this level of competition. This is Bull’s first USGA championship. Meanwhile, Jackson is playing in his 19th U.S. Mid-Am and 47 USGA Championship overall in addition to having competed in two U.S. Walker Cups.

• Corby Segal, 41, of Santa Clara, Calif., overcame a 3-down deficit after seven holes and defeated Uly Grisette, 46, of Winston-Salem, N.C.

Segal, a PGA Tour caddie, won Nos. 8-10 to square the match, won No. 14 with a par and put things to rest with a birdie at No. 18.

• Todd White, 44, of Spartanburg, S.C., was 3 down after the sixth hole but charged back to edge Kevin Wassmer, 46, of Poseyville, Ind., 1 up.

White won holes 7, 9 and 10 to even the match, but a par at 15 gave Wassmer a 1-up edge. White then won 16 with a par and clinched the match with a birdie at 18.

• Matthew Mattare, 26, of New York, never trailed and was 3 up after five holes on his way to a 2-and-1 victory over Stephen Cox, 26, of Jonesboro, Ark.

• At 56, Casey Boyns of Monterey, Calif., is the oldest competitor remaining after his 1-up win over Michael Muehr, 40, of Potomac Falls, Va.

Boyns, who has been a caddie at Pebble Beach Golf Links for some 30 years, was 2 down after nine holes. He won Nos. 10 and 11 to square the match, and then went on top by winning Nos. 13 and 15 with birdies. Muehr won the 16th with a par before both players halved the final two holes.

• At 25, Garrett Rank of Elmira, Ontario, is the youngest player still standing. In fact, he was the youngest player in the 264-player field, having turned 25 on Sept. 5.

But he has been playing like a veteran and moved into the quarterfinals with a 5-and-3 win over Matt Cohn, 31, of San Francisco. Rank, who has not played the final three holes in any of his first three matches, was 3 up through No. 5 and won No. 7 with a birdie and No. 8 with a par to go 5 up.

“I got off to a good start, had a lot of momentum going and then just kind of coasted in for the win,” said Rank, a recent graduate from the University of Waterloo in Canada who also is a referee in the Ontario Hockey League, one of the Canada's major junior leagues.

• • •

ROUND OF 16

Dennis Bull def. Charlie Blanchard, 2 up

Tim Jackson def. John Patterson, 4 and 2

Corby Segal def. Uly Grisette, 2 up

Nathan Smith def. Sean Knapp, 19 holes

Todd White def. Kevin Wassmer, 1 up

Casey Boyns def. Michael Muehr, 1 up

Matthew Mattare def. Stephen Cox, 2 and 1

Garrett Rank def. Matt Cohn, 5 and 3

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