Smith is 'world class' in New Castle

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Ryan Sikora walked toward the 18th green at New Castle Country Club, just in time to watch Nathan Smith play the final hole and finish off an impressive victory in the Tri-State Open at New Castle Country Club.

"I think he's bored with us," Sikora said. "We're not any competition for him. He's world class."

Keep in mind, Sikora is no chump player.

An assistant professional at Hannastown Golf Club, he is a two-time winner of the Frank B. Fuhrer Invitational and a former champion of the Pennsylvania Open. He is one of the best young players in the Tri-State PGA section.

But after watching Smith toy with the field for two days at the Tri-State Open, Sikora could only marvel at the talent and composure of the player who could go down as one of the greatest amateurs in golf history, not just in Western Pennsylvania.

Smith, a two-time Walker Cup performer and the only player to win the U.S. Mid-Amateur four times, birdied the first three holes of the final round Tuesday to step on the field and cruise to a four-shot victory that was even easier than it looked.

Rarely using his driver and stinging a 4- and 5-iron around the A.W. Tillinghast-designed layout, Smith shot 70 on the second day of the 36-hole event to finish at 5-under 139 -- four shots clear of New Castle amateur Ralph Litrenta, a past Tri-State Open champion.

"He's really something," said unattached West Virginia pro Scott Davis, who played in the final group with Smith, 34, and finished seven shots back at 146.

"He just manages his way around the course and knows exactly what he's doing."

Barry Evans, a former national club-pro champion from Berry Hills Country Club in Charleston, W.Va., was the benefactor of being low professional behind a pair of amateurs. He collected the $3,000 first prize for finishing at par -- 144.

"That's awesome playing out here," said Evans (72), one of only five players to shoot par or better in the final round.

"I've played with Nathan a number of times and he's awfully good."

Even in a field of the top club professionals in Western Pennsylvania, Smith seems to stand alone.

He is less than two months removed from competing in the Masters for the fourth time and is the only player in Western Pennsylvania history to be selected to two Walker Cup teams.

The only reason he was playing in the tournament is because he forgot to submit his entry in time to the United States Golf Association for a 36-hole U.S. Open qualifier. Smith was exempt into the qualifier for winning the U.S. Mid-Amateur a record fourth time in September.

"It worked out kinda," Smith said, smiling. "It's my fault. I need an agent. I need help."

After opening with a 69 for a one-shot lead, Smith wasted little time distancing himself from the other contenders. He chipped-in from 50 feet for birdie at the first hole, hit an 8-iron from 175 yards to 8 feet for birdie at the par-3 second and birdied the 553-yard third hole from 8 feet.

After a bogey at No. 10, Smith really started to dial in. He hit a sand wedge from 128 yards to 18 inches at the quirky 336-yard 11th, then nearly holed a pitching wedge from 148 yards at the par-3 13th, his ball stopping 2 inches on a slope above the hole.

From there, Smith just steered his way to the clubhouse, hitting irons off every tee until the final hole.

Bored? Not really. He knows every victory counts in some form toward another appearance on the U.S. Walker Cup team.

"I don't think I get any points, but anything you're playing in, they're watching," Smith said of the USGA. "They got their little eyes out there."

They saw an awesome performance.

mobilehome - golf

Gerry Dulac: gdulac@post-gazette.com and Twitter @gerrydulac.


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