Nathan Smith wins 8th Spring Stroke Play Championship

Posted May 5, 2016 - By Mike Dudurich,
Freelance writer and host of The Golf Show on 93.7 The Fan Saturday mornings from 7-8 AM
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2016 champion, Nathan Smith, with runner-up, Zachary Ford

The WPGA has retained Mike Dudurich to write a blog for its website. The opinions and observations contained within are his own and do not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of the Association.

Nathan Smith did something earlier this week that he's done eight times in the last 10 years. He won the West Penn Golf Association's Spring Stroke Play Championship.

"This tournament means a lot to me," he said after posting rounds of 70-71 at St. Clair Country Club for a 141 total, two shots better than the 143 (72-71) total turned in by 19-year-old Zachary Ford of Cochranton, Pa.

"What's amazing to me is how good the fields are. They are getting deeper and deeper each year. And this used to be an older tournament. But it's sure not that way anymore. You can hear the kids and the noises they make their drivers all over the place."

Smith made four birdies and two bogeys in his first round of 70 but had a much tougher time on the putting surfaces in the second round.

"The greens were so tough that it forced me to keep hitting the ball close and I was able to do that," Smith said. "They were fast and a little bumpy at the same time, I was basically trying to two-putt my way around this afternoon."

And he was doing a pretty good job of that, making 13 straight pars before making a bogey on his 13th hole, the 148-yard fifth hole. That jolt woke his putter and he birdied the next two holes. The first was a 20-footer uphiller and the next one was even a bit longer.

After that he made routine pars on the final two holes to nail down the win.

Ford, an East Tennessee State commit, had rounds of 72-71, to join Smith as the only the only two players under par for two rounds.

"I've never met Nathan Smith, but I certainly knew who he was and I also knew that if I was going to have a top finish, I was going to have to go through him," Ford, who celebrates his 20th birthday today, said. "He's just awesome."

When local qualifying or the U.S. Open begins next week, Smith won't be required to participate. He's exempt into sectional qualifying, thanks to the USGA Four-Ball victory he and teammate Todd White recorded last year.

He's never qualified for the Open and would love to do so, especially this year.

"I really don't think about it much," Smith admitted. "Would I like to get into it? Sure. But I don't think it's a career-defining thing. It's so hard to qualify. Once you get to the sectional stage, you start getting in with Tour players who aren't in, Tour guys who aren't in. Some outstanding fields. I've tried for 20 some years to qualify. I've been close a lot (but) I've never made it. I've had a lot of close calls, but who knows, maybe this is the year."

The defending U.S. Open stopped by Oakmont Country Club this week for his first look at the site of the 2016 U.S. Open.

Twenty-two year-old Jordan Spieth got in a quick nine Tuesday night before dark and 18 more on Wednesday morning. With seven PGA Tour victories, including a pair of major titles, Spieth has seen some of the best golf courses in the world. And he knows the best when he sees it.

"Yeah, it's lived up and passed the hype it already receives from everybody," Spieth said after his round. "What a great test of golf and a very tough, but fair test of golf. You can already tell. It's going to be a great U.S. Open this year, I think."

Contrast those comments to those of Kevin Kisner, a PGA Tour player with a considerably less sparkling resume, who was the first player to come for a visit to Oakmont CC.

"It's a beautiful mix of holes between difficult and somewhat moderate," Kisner said. "I'm used to feeling like I'm beating my head against the wall when I go to a U.S. Open and I didn't get that feeling at all at Oakmont."