Richmond, Texas — John Engler has a built-in excuse, a trump card of sorts, should he ever choose to use it. But that is not Engler’s style.
In March 2003, the 32-year-old Engler was involved in a tragic car accident that nearly severed his right foot from his leg and killed the two occupants in the other vehicle. As a result, he is somewhat limited to the number of rounds he can play over a short span.
An event such as this week’s U.S. Mid-Amateur, which presents the possibility of playing nine rounds and 144 holes over six days, can be a strenuous test on his ankle joint.
The Augusta, Ga., native and former three-time Clemson All-American who played briefly on the Nationwide Tour, did his best to minimize the physical exertion. He needed just 62 holes to reach Wednesday’s semifinal.
Once there, though, Engler lost 6 and 5 to Kenny Cook, of Noblesville, Ind.
Afterward, Engler offered a blunt assessment of his loss.
“I just played terrible,” he said. “The worst round I have had in months, but that’s part of golf. It’s the worst I’ve played in four months.”
As for the ankle?
“I’m not going to stand here and tell you the reason I lost is because of my ankle,” said Engler, who lost in last year’s Mid-Amateur second round to eventual champion Nathan Smith. “Everybody’s body is fatigued after 36 holes, so for me to tell you it was the reason is a complete lie.”
Engler will need a few days to process this loss.
“I came in here playing well and you want to be prepared for the heat of the battle, but I just didn’t have it this afternoon,” he said. “I’m sure I will be able to find a positive, but it’s going to take me a while.”
No Three-Peat For Smith
On Monday, two-time reigning champion Nathan Smith admitted that winning a record third consecutive U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship was becoming tougher. He was right.
Smith’s record run ended with a 19-hole loss to 54-year-old Randal Lewis in the semifinals on Wednesday afternoon.
“I knew I needed to do something special to beat him,” said Lewis, who lost to John “Spider” Miller in the 1996 U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship at Hartford Golf Club in West Hartford, Conn. “He’s just so good.”
Smith’s U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship résumé is full of records.
- In 2003, he became the championship’s youngest winner, age 25, by four years.
- His 2010 title tied him with Jay Sigel for most U.S. Mid-Amateur titles (three).
- With four match play wins to start this year’s championship, Smith set the record for successive match play wins (16, dating back to 2009).
But there are a few other numbers that put Smith’s indelible stamp of dominance on this championship.
- In seven Mid-Am appearances, he is 26-4.
- During his Mid-Amateur career he has played 519 holes and won 337 (64.9 percent) and been all square in another 117, meaning he has trailed in just 22.8 percent of his holes played. During his three championship years he led or was all squared on 85.9 percent of the holes.
- Of the 30 matches Smith has played, his loss to Lewis was the first in which he never led a single hole.
- Each of Smith’s four career Mid-Amateur losses have been at the 18th hole or later. His overall record in matches that have gone that far is 8-4.
- In his three championship finals, he led 68 of the 69 holes played. In 2003, when Bryan Norton retired on the ninth hole with a calf injury, Smith was already 4 up.
“I guess I will just have to start another streak next year,” Smith said.
Kenny Cook will have at least one spectator pulling for him on Thursday – friend Josh Sroufe, who is turning out to be quite the prophet.
After attending the Indianapolis Colts’ 27-19 home loss to Cleveland on Sunday, Sroufe sent a text message to Cook.
“He said he was thinking about coming,” Cook said. “I said ‘Josh, I’ve got to go finish up on Monday. You might come down here for nothing.’ He said ‘No big deal, I’m a believer.’”
Sroufe got up Tuesday morning at 2:30 a.m. and drove from Anderson, Ind., to Indianapolis, caught a flight into Dallas, drove the four hours to the Houston suburb of Richmond and arrived at Shadow Hawk just as Cook was dispatching Sean Knapp, 2 up, in the second round.
In Sroufe’s presence, Cook continues to win and will make his first U.S. Mid-Amateur final appearance against Randal Lewis.
Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work has appeared previously on USGA championship websites.