Nathan Smith, 31, of Pittsburgh, Pa., won his second U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship Friday by defeating Tim Spitz, 33, of Rochester, N.Y., 7 and 6, in the scheduled 36-hole final match at the 6,964-yard, par-72 Cassique at The Kiawah Island Club.
“This was harder,” said Smith when comparing his 2003 victory to his 2009 crown. “I had just turned 25. I was still in grad school. I was a naïve kid. I thought this was easy. But you go through five or six years and you realize how tough it is. The first time is great but this is definitely up there.”
In the morning 18, Smith, a member of the victorious 2009 USA Walker Cup and USGA Men’s State Team squads last month, won five of the first eight holes and shot the stroke-play equivalent of 3-under-par 69 (with match play concessions) by making three birdies against no bogeys. He did not lose a hole in the morning 18.
“I was really solid this morning,” said Smith, an investment advisor. “It’s such a fine line out here. Tim played really well this morning but with the pins, he was just a foot off here or there. I was fortunate I was on and he was just a little off. I was able to take advantage of it and get off to a quick start.”
Spitz, a reinstated amateur who graduated from Furman University in Greenville, S.C. in 1997, realized that he gave Smith an early opening.
“I’m disappointed that I didn’t play better,” said Spitz, a municipal bonds specialist. “I hit it just as good as him and he putted well and I putted horribly. I hit a lot of very bad first putts this morning and he made a few. My putter really let me down this morning.”
A key turning point in the morning 18 was the par-3 fifth hole where Spitz’s tee shot went into the hole and rebounded out for a conceded birdie. However, Smith delivered a 35-foot birdie putt from the fringe to halve the hole and remain 3 up.
“Yeah, I thought that was huge,” Smith said. “He had a great shot. It looked like it went in from our view. Then it was one of those where I just wanted to make a real good effort and get the putt there. As soon as I let it go, it was good. When it went in and stuff like that happens, it’s just meant to be.”
“When it looked like a little momentum was going my way, he stopped it,” said Spitz.
Spitz, who brought his wife and three young children with him on the trip, has accrued many local victories in his hometown of Rochester. En route to the final, he defeated 2005 Mid-Amateur champion Kevin Marsh in the first round and four-time quarterfinalist Pat Carter in the semifinals. He stressed that making the final is his biggest golf accomplishment “without a doubt.”
Smith is the fifth multiple winner of the championship joining Jay Sigel (1983, 1985, 1987), Jim Stuart (1990, 1991), Tim Jackson (1994, 2001), and John “Spider” Miller (1996 and 1998). His margin of victory was the third-largest since the championship match was lengthened to 36 holes in 2001.
With his father, Larry, working as his caddie all week, Smith also turned to the comfort of wearing the same clothes (albeit washed each evening), eating the same dish at the same restaurant and even parking in the same space.
Smith will also be making a likely second trip to the Masters Tournament and he was emotional when addressing that appearance.
“I’m speechless,” said Smith, who also won the 2009 Pennsylvania Amateur. “I don’t even know what to say. That’s hard to think about now. When I was down there before I felt like the luckiest person in the world and I can’t believe it’s happened twice to me.”
With the victory Smith duplicated the 2007 season of Dallas’ Trip Kuehne, who won the Mid-Amateur and was on the winning Walker Cup and USGA Men’s State Team squads.
Because of the heavy rains on Monday, the schedule of the Mid-Amateur was revised to move the first and second rounds of match play to Tuesday, the third and quarterfinal rounds to Wednesday, the semifinals to Thursday and the final to Friday. This was the first time the schedule was altered by weather since the 1997 championship at Dallas Athletic Club.
The champion receives a gold medal, custody of the Robert T. Jones Jr. Memorial Trophy for one year, an exemption from qualifying for the next 10 U.S. Mid-Amateurs, and, historically, an invitation to the next Masters Tournament. Both finalists are exempt from qualifying for the 2010 U.S. Amateur.
The U.S. Mid-Amateur is one of 13 national championships conducted annually by the USGA, 10 of which are for amateurs.