Western Pennylvania amateur Smith has special moment

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AUGUSTA, Ga. -- In any of his three previous appearances at the Masters, Nathan Smith never got to do anything more than listen from the practice range to the cheers for the honorary starters.

Thursday, though, was different.

Because he was in the first group of the 77th Masters that began at 8 a.m., Smith was on the practice putting green when Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player -- golf's Big Three -- were getting ready to hit the ceremonial first tee shots. From there, he could easily witness one of the grandest traditions in sports.

"I was attempting to hit a putt, but I don't think I hit any," Smith said. "I was just watching. It was special. It's neat to soak that in."

On a gray, overcast morning that did nothing to diminish the festive mood outside the clubhouse, Western Pennsylvania was well-represented on the first tee at the Augusta National Golf Club.

Palmer in his white golf shirt with red cardigan sweater, making his seventh consecutive appearance as a honorary starter at the Masters.

Smith wearing white shirt with khaki pants and no hat, making his third Masters appearance in four years and fourth overall as the reigning U.S. Mid Amateur champion.

Latrobe's native hero and Allison Park's adopted son.

One hit the unofficial first shot to begin the festivities. The other was among the threesome to hit the first tee shots that mattered.

"I'm glad I did that," Smith said. "I've always wanted to do that. It was kind of special to be over there to watch that, get a ringside seat."

Even Palmer agreed.

He began serving as the honorary starter in 2007 and was joined on the first tee by Nicklaus in 2010. Two years later, Player joined them in their ceremonial role.

Among them, golf's Big Three have combined to win 13 green jackets -- six by Nicklaus, four by Palmer, three by Player.

"Something like this is pretty special," Palmer said afterward, getting ready to go have breakfast.

And Smith, a member at Wildwood Country Club, had a ringside seat.

"I saw him on the range this morning and he wished me good luck," Smith said. "I didn't want to interrupt him. I just shook his hand as I walked by. It was pretty special."

Palmer and Smith have crossed paths before at Augusta National. In 2004, they were paired together for the first two rounds of the tournament that would be Palmer's 50th and final appearance at the Masters. It was the first of Smith's four appearances.

It was unforgettable for more than just the obvious reason.

Trying to stay out Palmer's way for the King's final walk up the 18th fairway, Smith made double-bogey at the final hole to miss the cut by two shots.

Smith hasn't made the cut in his three previous appearances at the Masters, and it is looking as if it will be four in a row after he opened with a 5-over 77 in the first round.

It tied the second-highest score Smith has posted in seven rounds at the Masters, one shot behind his first-round score (78) when he was paired with Palmer nine years ago. But it could have been worse.

Smith made a number of solid up-and-downs to save par.

"I know the golf course, I know what's coming, I know where to put it, I know what not to do," Smith said. "Maybe I'm a little limited. It's like guarding [Michael] Jordan. I know I can't do it.

"I was trying to do all the right things and sometime you do do all the right things. You hit good shots and you end up in bad places."

Not all the places were bad for Smith on day one.

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Gerry Dulac: gdulac@post-gazette.com and Twitter @gerrydulac. First Published April 12, 2013 4:15 AM


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