Local amateur gets long-awaited chance in Mylan Classic

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Nathan Smith is one of the top local amateur golfers and has always enjoyed watching those he has played with -- pros and amateurs -- in the Mylan Classic at Southpointe Golf Club. He had always wanted a chance to participate in it, but never thought he would get it for a variety of reasons.

So imagine his surprise when, a few weeks ago, he received an email from tournament director Chase McClain informing him he would be included in this year's field.

The news surprised Smith, but that's because he hadn't heard the Mylan Classic format changed in its fourth year -- it is now the only Web.com Tour event that has 12 spots designated for the top amateur players.

McClain said it's called the "All-American" format, as the players eligible for the spots must be a college All-American (Division I first or second team, or Division II first team), the Division I or II player of the year, a Division I NCAA champion or a member of the most recent U.S. Walker Cup team.

Smith, who lives in the North Hills, was a member of the 2011 Walker Cup team and, being a local amateur, was an easy choice for one of the final two spots in the field.

And while he has played in the Masters four times as an amateur -- including once when he was paired with legend Arnold Palmer -- he said being picked to participate in the Mylan Classic is one of the most special golf moments for him because it is one of the biggest events in Western Pennsylvania.

"The new format, amateur-wise, really opened up some doors," Smith said Thursday at the Mylan Classic media day. "The last couple of years, I was always rooting on some of the local pros. It was fun but I didn't realize they had changed the format when I got the call. It will be fun to play with a lot of these guys and fun to reminisce with so many of them that I have played with in the past.

"I was really honored; I was blown away and really excited to come down here and get this opportunity. I have always loved the course."

Smith won the Jay Sigel Match Play Championship last week at Huntingdon Valley Country Club and said his game is in great shape. But he knows he must play well to have a chance in the Mylan, one of the top events on the Web.com Tour.

McClain said the inclusion of the 12 amateurs under the All-American format is special because only one tournament on the tour is selected for that.

"It was a tremendous opportunity for us. There is only one event in the world that has this format and that is us now," McClain said. "And for us, it helps put the spotlight on Washington County. We did lose a few local spots, but this gives the tournament greater international exposure. We went out and wanted to get the best guys available and I think we have.

"We expect every year that the top players on the Web.com Tour are going to come here because we're late enough in the season that they all know they need to be here."

Along with the new format, the Mylan Classic also has a new date. It was previously played in late August/early September but was moved up to July 29-Aug. 4. The tournament officially begins Aug. 1 but there are several events in the three days before.

McClain said the new date was to accommodate the new Web.com playoff system, a series of four tournaments at the end of the year.

The playoff will take the top 75 players on the tour money list and players ranked No. 126-200 on the PGA Tour and put them in a field together. The top 25 finishers who haven't already earned a PGA Tour card will earn one for next year.

"It is a good time of year for us because there isn't a lot going on, to be honest," McClain said. "School and the football season hasn't really begun so we think it is a very good spot on the calendar for us."

The event is a big boost to Washington County, as it has brought an average of 23,000 visitors to the region and has about an $8 million economic impact. Most important, it has raised $1.8 million over four years for various charities.

golf

Paul Zeise: pzeise@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1720 and Twitter @paulzeise.


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