U.S. AMATEUR
Smallwood, Napier Put Paris (Texas) on the Golf Map August 17, 2015 | Olympia Fields, Ill. By Ron Driscoll, USGA

After a rough patch in the middle of his collegiate career, Stuart Smallwood is making his USGA championship debut at Olympia Fields. (USGA/John Mummert)

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In a 1984 film collaboration by Wim Wenders and Sam Shepard, a nomadic character played by Harry Dean Stanton tells his brother that he wants to visit Paris. His brother naturally thinks he is talking about France’s famed City of Light, but he is actually referring to Paris, Texas, where he had abandoned his family.

“Paris, Texas” won the grand prize at that year’s Cannes Film Festival, and it had its premiere in the sleepy northeast Texas community that it was named for. This week, the city of 25,000 is getting another close-up at the U.S. Amateur, where it boasts two players in the field – exactly two more than Paris, France, with its 12 million inhabitants.

“It’s an even bigger story than that,” said Cliff Smallwood, father of Stuart Smallwood, one of the two players from Paris who is playing this week. “They both play at Paris Golf & Country Club, which has exactly 178 golf members.”

The 312-player U.S. Amateur field also includes Tanner Napier, who was four years behind Smallwood at Paris High School and landed a berth here as the first alternate out of the Prosper, Texas, sectional qualifier. Napier was alerted that he had made the field two weeks ago, while on a cruise with his family out of Galveston, Texas.

“I was one of the early finishers in the qualifier, and by the time I got done, two players were already ahead of me,” said Napier. “We went to get something to eat, and one of the Rules officials told me I was tied for third and there was a playoff for the alternate spots in about 30 minutes. I got back and went straight from the car to the tee. I left my second shot short of the green and chipped in for birdie.”

Tanner Napier, now a rising sophomore at Arkansas State, was four years behind Stuart Smallwood at Paris High School. (USGA/John Mummert)

Smallwood was already at Texas State University in San Marcos when Napier got to Paris High, and the younger player followed in his All-State footsteps under coach Randall Lewis before moving on to Arkansas State, where he is a rising sophomore.

“There’s a group of 10 or 12 players at the club who play together, and they’re both in it,” said Brent Napier, Tanner’s father. “They play in the same foursome a lot. Go figure.”

“We’re from the same hometown and the same golf course, but our games couldn’t be more opposite,” said Napier. “I’m a longer hitter who kind of overpowers the course, while he’s very steady. We’re very different, but we’re both here.”

Smallwood had missed out on qualifying for the U.S. Amateur by one stroke the past two years, and after earning his degree last December, he decided to dedicate himself to the game.

“The difference this year from past years is that I’ve made a few more putts,” said Smallwood. “I would hit the ball really well but didn’t get it in the hole soon enough.”

Smallwood capped his college career in spring 2014 by winning the Sun Belt Conference individual title after struggling for most of his last two years at school.

“I lost my swing and got in my own way,” said Smallwood. “I started worrying more about that than just playing golf. I went from No. 300 [in the World Amateur Golf Ranking™] to No. 800 in two years.”

Smallwood’s game-improvement plan, which he hopes will lead to a professional career, was sidetracked by the winter weather – an astonishing 42 inches of rain between January and March.

“We just went out to the range and hit balls in the mud,” said Smallwood, whose perseverance paid off at a sectional qualifier on July 6 in Tulsa, Okla., when he landed his first USGA championship berth.

“It’s about time – they’ve been waiting for me to get into this championship for a while,” said Smallwood of his hometown followers. “It’s a good day for Paris, Texas.”

Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at rdriscoll@usga.org.

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