Allison Park's Smith makes noise, history at U.S. Mid-Amateur
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Nathan Smith didn't want to go an extra hole, not with a howling wind blowing in his face and a chilling rain starting to fall. And not against an opponent who quickly had erased his three-hole lead in the 36-hole final of the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship.
When Smith two-putted the final hole from 18 feet for par, then watched Canadian hockey referee Garrett Rank slide a 15-foot birdie attempt just over the edge, he likely was more relieved the match was over than the fact he had just made United States Golf Association history.
With his 1-up victory Thursday in the final match at Conway Farms Golf Club in Lake Forest, Ill., Smith became the first player to win four U.S. Mid-Amateur championships, breaking the previous record he shared with Jay Sigel.
"It's unbelievable," said Smith, an Allison Park resident who is a member at Wildwood Golf Club and St. Jude Golf Club.
"I can't believe it. [To win] six matches, four times, it's crazy. It's hard to believe."
After winning the title for the first time in 2003, Smith, 34, has won the Mid-Am three times in the past four years ('09, '10, '12). The victory does not carry an automatic exemption to the Masters, but the Mid-Amateur champion traditionally receives an invitation from Augusta National Golf Club.
Smith already has appeared in three Masters, although he missed the cut each time.
Smith, though, was beginning to wonder if he would be able to hold on when Rank, 25, a referee in the Ontario Hockey League, won three holes in a row to square the match with three holes remaining.
"It was cold, it was rainy, there was a lot of wind," Smith said.
"And it was starting to go the wrong way for me."
But, at the 35th hole, a 225-yard par 3, Smith two-putted from 40 feet for par while Rank failed to get up and down from the greenside rough. That gave Smith a one-hole lead heading to the final hole, a 585-yard par-5 that was playing into the wind.
When Rank missed a 15-foot birdie putt that would have squared the match and forced a playoff, Smith was relieved.
And a champion again.
"I didn't want to send my caddy back down No. 1 [for a playoff], and I didn't want to go, either," Smith said. "[Rank] was playing great. Luckily, I held it off."
First Published September 15, 2012 12:38 am