U.S. SENIOR AMATEUR
Lure of Lake Nona motivates Lakeland, Fla., resident to qualify for Senior Amateur September 29, 2010 By David Shefter, USGA

Even with his busy schedule, Executive Committee member Steve Smyers found time to qualify for the Senior Amateur, his first USGA competition in eight years. (USGA Museum)

Steve Smyers wasn’t going to file an entry for the 2010 USGA Senior Amateur.

Too many other things were occupying his time, his golf architecture design business among them. Not to mention his duties as a member of the USGA Executive Committee, where he serves as the chairman of the U.S. Mid-Amateur, the Green Section and the International Team Selection committees, and is a member of both the Amateur Status and Equipment Standards committees.

When would the 57-year-old Lakeland, Fla., resident possibly find the time to get into full competitive mode? Since joining the Executive Committee in 2006, Smyers had never entertained thoughts of trying to qualify.

So as the Senior Amateur entry deadline approached, Smyers procrastinated.

I’ve done that my whole life, said Smyers with a hint of sarcasm.

But subconsciously a voice was screaming from within: Lake Nona!

The posh gated community in Orlando, Fla., is the host of the 2010 competition and Smyers’ newsContents with the golf course’s ownership group run several decades. Smyers had redesigned the community’s sister course across town at Isleworth, and he has a strong professional relationship with the Tavistock Group. Several close friends also reside in the community and it’s a golf course Smyers knows quite well.

I literally signed up on the last day, said Smyers. It was more the fact that [the Senior Amateur] was in my backyard.

And despite some competitive rust – Smyers had only played four serious rounds this year prior to the sectional qualifier on Sept. 13 – he managed to shoot a 72 at Old Marsh Golf Club in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., to earn the final qualifying spot in a two-man playoff.

Smyers said the final few holes of the qualifier were the most nerve-racking of his amateur career. Despite being a veteran of 17 USGA championships, including seven U.S. Amateurs and three British Amateurs, this particular qualifier had a different feel.

I was probably abnormally nervous, said Smyers. The butterflies were going pretty good.

The anxiety eased a bit when Marc Rosenbaum of Hollywood, Fla., hit his approach shot on the first playoff hole into the water. Smyers calmly two-putted for a routine par and was in the field.

But don’t think for a minute that the ultra-competitive Smyers is just satisfied to qualify. Even though he’s had little time to prepare since the qualifier, he’s headed to Lake Nona Golf and Country Club with high expectations.

I’m going there with determination, that’s for sure, he said.

Having Executive Committee members in the Senior Amateur is certainly not unprecedented. William C. Campbell and O. Gordon Brewer each won titles while serving on the Executive Committee. Recently, Bruce Richards and Jack Vardaman qualified while on the committee. And this year, current member Christie Austin qualified for both the Women’s Mid-Amateur and Senior Women’s Amateur.

Fitting in some practice will be Smyers’ true test. Prior to spending the past week in Bridgehampton, N.Y., overseeing the U.S. Mid-Amateur at Atlantic Golf Club, Smyers was in west Texas and France for his golf architecture business. He also worked the U.S. Amateur at Chambers Bay in late August and took his youngest son, Scott, to Barry University in Miami to get him settled in. Scott earned a golf scholarship to the NCAA Division II school and Steve credits Scott for helping to keep his game sharp the past several years.

That little competitiveness between the two of us is what turned me around the corner, said Smyers. He beats me, but I make him work at it. I give him a lot of the credit for my rebirth in golf.

Smyers’ love affair with the game dates to 1964 when he was 11 and his father took him to the U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club. Five years later, with his family living in Houston, Smyers signed up to caddie at the 1969 U.S. Open at Champions Golf Club. Back then, the competitors couldn’t use professional caddies, so a lottery system was used to match up caddies and players.

Smyers drew Miller Barber and his man held the 54-hole lead before a final-round 78 dropped him into a share of sixth.

That experience led to resurgence in Smyers’ own game. Prior to that championship, Smyers had never shot lower than 78. But in his next two rounds, he broke 70. He started winning local tournaments and the following year, he qualified for his first USGA championship, the U.S. Junior Amateur at Athens (Ga.) Country Club, where he lost in the first round.

Smyers was recruited to play at the University of Florida, a national golf power, where his teammates included Gary Koch (who won the 1970 U.S. Junior Amateur), PGA Tour standout Andy Bean, two-time U.S. Open champion Andy North and Fred Ridley, who would win the 1975 U.S. Amateur and later become president of the USGA. Ridley, Koch and another teammate, Mike Killian, all would play in a Walker Cup Match.

Yet after college, Smyers didn’t follow Koch, Bean or North into the professional ranks. He instead landed a job with a golf architect, Florida-based Ron Garl. One of their projects was Fiddlesticks Country Club in Fort Myers, Fla., site of this year’s USGA Senior Women’s Amateur.

In 1983, Smyers formed his own architectural firm and has since done some 60 projects, including his home course, Old Memorial, in Tampa. Other course designs include Wolf Run in suburban Indiana, the South Course at Olympia Fields (Ill.), the host of next year’s U.S. Girls’ Junior, and Blue Heron Pines’ East Course in Egg Harbor City, N.J., which hosted the 2003 U.S. Amateur Public Links.

Needless to say, work and Executive Committee duties keep Smyers on the road for almost half the year.

I get up early and go to bed late, said Smyers.

That hectic schedule will take Smyers from Long Island to Orlando late Thursday night, giving him one official practice round at Lake Nona prior to the start of the Senior Amateur on Saturday.

While Senior Amateur competitors can use a golf cart, Smyers plans to walk. Trent Smyers, his oldest son and currently a junior at the University of Florida, will serve as his caddie. Smyers’ wife, Sherrin, a former LPGA Tour player, also plans to be in attendance. Steve has caddied for Sherrin at three U.S. Women’s Open, and claims to be the only guy to be fired every time he’s worked the championship.

Living in the I-4 corridor between Orlando and Tampa, Smyers should also have plenty of local support.

And you can be sure his fellow Executive Committee members will be keeping a close eye on the results.

They would wish me well, said Smyers. They would say go out there and do what you need to do. Just stay patient and trust it.

David Shefter is a USGA communications staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at dshefter@usga.org.

 

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