Notebook: Smith’s Deepest U.S. Amateur Run Ends

Four-time U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Nathan Smith, of Pittsburgh, Pa., saw his career-best showing in the U.S. Amateur come to an end in the quarterfinals. (USGA/John Mummert)
By Stuart Hall
August 15, 2014

JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – Nathan Smith has played in enough USGA match-play championships to know that the results are not always indicative of the quality of your play.

Smith, 36, a four-time U.S. Mid-Amateur champion, was pleased with his game entering this week, but as one of the oldest players in the field, he was unsure of how the championship might unfold. 

"You can be playing really good and maybe not get anything out of the week, or sometimes you're playing OK and next thing you know, you open your eyes and you make a run,” said Smith, who won three matches over two days as the No. 64 seed before he was defeated, 4 and 3, by Frederick Wedel, 19, of The Woodlands, Texas, in Friday’s quarterfinals.

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Video: Nathan Smith Talks About Defeat

This week marked Smith’s deepest run in the championship, one round further than his Round of 16 appearance in the 2000 U.S. Amateur.  

"I really felt good about my game coming in here,” he said. “I've been swinging the way I want to. I've been swinging better and my short game is solid. I don't know what it means at this level, but it was nice to get through this far. Wish we could have kept going.”

Smith will seek his fifth U.S. Mid-Amateur title, Sept. 6-11 at Saucon Valley Country Club’s Old Course in Bethlehem, Pa. 

"Like I said, you never know what's going to happen,” said Smith, a Pittsburgh native. "There's so many good Mid-Ams out there, and Saucon Valley is going to be a great host for that. I'm sure everybody is excited to get there. I'm playing good like a lot of other guys, and it will be fun to go out there and compete.”

Wedel Seeks to Make Good on Vow

Pepperdine University coach Michael Beard was not completely surprised by what Frederick Wedel was saying, but he wanted to see his player put the plan into action. 

In April, Wedel, 19, of The Woodlands, Texas, was coming off a seventh-place tie at the Redhawk Invitational at Chambers Bay, host venue for next year’s U.S. Open. He told Beard how much he liked the course and would be back to play in the 2015 U.S. Open.

“He has big dreams,” Beard said. “It’s something he talks about a lot and he kind of pulls something out of nowhere, like ‘Hey, I’m going to play in the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay.’ I was like, ‘Good Fred, all right, let’s just see it.’”

Wedel continues to follow his timeline this week, advancing to the semifinals with a 4-and-3 victory over Nathan Smith. Should Wedel reach Sunday’s 36-hole final, he will be exempt into next year’s U.S. Open. 

“When I showed up for my U.S. Am qualifier, I was like, ‘This is it. This is your first step in playing in next year's U.S. Open,'” said Wedel.

"I told myself that morning, ‘Qualify for the U.S. Amateur.’ Then my next goal is the match play, and then my next goal is the quarters and my goal is ultimately to make it to the final so I earn that exemption into the U.S. Open. I keep telling myself that if I keep playing well, I'll play the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay.”

For Wedel, a junior at Pepperdine, there is not a sense of urgency about his career, but he admits the successes have been sporadic. He has not won a tournament since his senior season in high school.

And yet, winning this week would not surprise either Beard or Wedel. 

“Everything's coming together at the right time,” Wedel said. "This week has definitely been big for me. Especially playing on a national stage. I've done a lot of good things. I've hit a lot of quality shots, a lot of quality putts and under pressure, when it needs to be done. This is definitely huge for me and it's definitely making me a better player. I know deep down that I'm going to be a much better player coming out of this tournament.”

He might also be a competitor in next year’s U.S. Open, as well.

Amateur Game Still Paramount to Tatum, 94

Sandy Tatum, first and foremost, loves the amateur game more than any other aspect of golf. So it was no surprise that the past president of the USGA watched a few holes Friday during the quarterfinals of the 114th U.S. Amateur at AAC.

"Amateur golf, in my mind, is still the bedrock of the game through which all the other aspects flow," Tatum, 94, said after watching the first nine holes of the first quarterfinal between Nathan Smith and Frederick Wedel. "When I was working on the USGA television contracts and I pushed for 18-hole coverage of the U.S. Open, my inspiration was the U.S. Amateur, the fact that you want to see all 18 holes."

Tatum, who lives in San Francisco, served as USGA president in 1978 and 1979 and was a member of the Executive Committee from 1972-80. He said that he still keeps tabs on all aspects of golf and the USGA. "I like to stick an oar in the water from time to time," he said with a grin. "I never tire of it."

Indeed, though he hasn't played an 18-hole round in four years, Tatum still works on his swing at San Francisco Golf Club or at Cypress Point. "I'm looking for that one remnant of the golfer I used to be," said the 1942 NCAA champion. "The way I go about it now is that I have hope and illusions. I hope I can hit a golf ball the way I want, and I have illusions about how I'm going to do it. But you know what? I'll never give up."

Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work frequently appears on USGA websites. Dave Shedloski contributed.

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