Smith holds off Rank to win USGA Mid-Amateur yet again
Garrett Rank hits out of a bunker on the second hole during the championship match of the USGA Mid-Amateur on Thursday, Sept. 13, 2012, at Conway Farms Golf Club. | Buzz Orr~Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 13, 2012 8:16PM
LAKE FOREST — Nathan Smith is the first golfer to win four USGA Mid-Amateur Championships.
The 34-year-old Smith withstood a late charge by Canadian Garrett Rank during Thursday’s 36-hold championship match at Conway Farms Golf Club, clinching the 1-up win when Rank’s 13-foot birdie putt on the final hole slid wide right. Smith also won Mid-Amateur titles in 2003, 2009 and 2010.
The Pittsburgh resident is in line to earn the Masters berth that is traditionally awarded to the Mid-Amateur champion.
“Any time you can say you’ve done something that nobody else has — no matter what it is in sports or life or anything — it feels pretty surreal,” Smith said. “I played some great opponents this week.”
There was plenty of tension on the final nine holes Thursday.
Smith had a 3-up advantage and looked in control until his approach shot on the 462-yard 13th sailed right and came up 20 yards short of the green in the rough. Rank’s solid par beat Smith’s bogey, and the Canadian — who sent his tee shots bounding past Smith’s all day — kept the pressure on by reaching the par-5 14th in two.
He converted a two-putt birdie to cut the lead to 1-up, and when Smith three-putted on the short 331-yard 15th, the match was all square.
“He just kept coming,” Smith said of Rank. “I was just trying to keep that cushion because … he’s just that good. He’s just that explosive.
“I knew he was good for a couple birdies coming in.”
But Smith recovered, taking the lead back two holes later when Rank hit a poor chip on the par-3 17th that rolled down a hill some 30 feet past the pin. Both players played the par-5 18th perfectly, placing their third shots within 15 feet of the pin.
When Rank’s birdie attempt burned the right edge, Smith was the champion.
It’s becoming a familiar feeling.
“Not familiar enough,” said Smith, who has missed the cut in his three previous appearances at the Masters.
Rank was the youngest player in the Mid-Amateur field, turning 25 years old just three days before the championship. He is a survivor of testicular cancer and a professional hockey referee in the Ontario Hockey League.
He is deciding between pursuing a professional golf career and trying to become an NHL referee.
“I played great,” Rank said. “I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I’m not disappointed, but a week or maybe even two days down the road, I’m going have a huge smile on my face and be really happy with what I achieved this week.”