Smith advances to U.S. Am quarters for first time

Nathan Smith knocked out Byron Meth in 21 holes at the U.S. Amateur on Thursday.
Nathan Smith knocked out Byron Meth in 21 holes at the U.S. Amateur on Thursday. ( Tracy Wilcox )

Thursday, August 14, 2014

JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – Nathan Smith needed 21 holes to dispatch reigning U.S. Amateur Public Links champion Byron Meth and advance into the quarterfinals of the U.S. Amateur at Atlanta Athletic Club on Thursday afternoon.

Smith, 36, had to summon all the energy he could muster on a day when the rounds of 32 and 16 were played.

In the morning, Smith had a relatively easy time with long-hitting Brandon McIver in a 4-and-3 victory.

It was the shortest match Smith has had in match play at the U.S. Amateur, allowing him to conserve energy before his tussle with Meth, a senior at Pacific.

The front nine of the match with Meth was devoid of much action as Smith took a 1-up lead into the turn after he made his first birdie of the day, on the par-3 seventh hole.

Interestingly the talk on the front nine was about golf, Smith said, but not so much about the amateur. Rather, they discussed a venue some two hours down Interstate 20.

Next year, Meth will be making his first trip to the Masters, a major that Smith has played four times as U.S. Mid-Amateur champion.

“We were talking about the Crow's Nest, the course and what to look forward to, just the week itself,” Smith said. “He's going to have a blast. You can see the glow in his eyes. He's really excited to get down there and be a part of that.”

Smith, trying to get a return trip of his own down Magnolia Lane, seemed to make a big move in that direction by taking a 2-up lead with a birdie at the par-5 12th hole.

But a seesaw battle ensued.

For Smith, draining a downhill 35-footer for birdie on the par-3 17th hole put the investment adviser from Pittsburgh in the driver's seat at 1 up with just the 18th hole remaining.

Playing the par-5 18th exactly as he wanted, Smith was left with 4-footer for par to close out the match, but the putt never touched the hole, forcing extra holes.

Meth thought his day was over as Smith stood over the putt at 18.

“Oh, for sure,” Meth said. “I was ready to take my hat off, and then I got another chance.”

At that point, Smith looked tired walking from the 18th green to the first tee, but in the three playoff holes he hit the ball where he wanted, giving himself easy two-putts.

After a solid 19th hole, Meth had to scramble out of the trees on the 20th hole to save bogey, but missed a 20-foot downhill par putt on the 21st hole, sending Smith into Friday's quarterfinals, where he will face Frederick Wedel of The Woodlands, Texas, at 11 a.m.

“I haven't thought about it a lot, but it's nice to have some success in this tournament,’ Smith said of his 21-hole marathon. “I haven't had too much through the years. It's nice to win a few matches and get deep and see you guys and just be here. It's exciting for me and everybody back home. It's been fun.”

In 13 appearances before this week, Smith had made it to match play only three times: 2000 at Baltusrol Golf Club, 2005 at Merion Golf Club and in 2009 at Southern Hills Country Club.

Now Smith has his best opportunity to advance beyond the top eight as all the top seeds have vanished on his side of his bracket. Wedel, a junior at Pepperdine, is No. 619 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking.

“In these events you just have to turn your brain off and just go play, play hard,” Smith said of the mindset required to continue to advance. “Whatever happens, happens. You can't worry about what the stakes are or what's on the line. Just go play your heart out, and if somebody dusts you up tomorrow, it is what it is; and if you keep going, it's great.”

It’s that calm attitude that his caddie, Jimmy O’Brien, said distinguishes Smith from many in the field.

“I like his demeanor,” O’Brien, a part-time caddie at Atlanta Athletic Club, said of Smith. “It doesn't change. Not that he hit very many bad shots, but if he hits a squirrelly shot, it doesn't even faze him. If he hits a great shot, it doesn't even faze him. He's just even-keel all the way through, and he's a great guy.” readers: We value your input and welcome your comments, but please be respectful in this forum.